We’ve all seen images of first responders dressed in white space-like suits walking into a hazardous situation. 

The Environmental Protection Agency defines HazMat as any substance potentially harmful to human health or the environment and requires strict protocols for handling and transporting them. But, mistakes happen. Despite precautions, a spill can shut down an industrial plant, or close down a road or neighborhood. 

HazMat crews — the ones in the snazzy suits — are trained to approach in their signature protective gear and secure the area while assessing the risk and figure how to mitigate the damage. It’s an incredibly dangerous job. In the past 20 years, almost 400 first responders have died from exposure to toxic substances from oil spills to gas leaks to chemical burns. 

Most of these casualties have been firefighters responding to reports of carbon dioxide, an odorless, colorless gas that’s used to chill food during transport. Although non toxic, CO2 can suck all of the oxygen from a confined space and burn skin on direct contact. Responders have also been killed and injured from leaks of chlorine, argon and sulfuric acid, all of which are used in manufacturing.

But now, a new type of robot may be able to help humans access dangerous spills from a safe distance — gathering data about toxicity and oxygen levels. 

We’ve been using robots for years to boldly go where humans fear to tread. But these robots aren’t the mechanical humanoid that rumbles into the situation with the steady gravitas of a tank. These robots are … different. They squish. They bounce. They plop. 

In fact, the creators of the Squishy Robot company are quick to admit the idea came from a baby toy known as the Skwish.

These robots, dropped from drones, have the elasticity to land into a dangerous situation with a gentle thud and then go about their business. Watch how they work and how engineers hope the devices can save lives.

 

Some video imagery courtesy of Squishy Robots

Published on Jan 22, 2020