When it came to the task of digging through the rubble of the Twin Towers, humans were for one of the first times ever working alongside robots: Packbots made by iRobot under a DARPA research fund, were “literally pulled out of the laboratory and taken to 9/11.” The devices were strong, maneuverable and could work in precarious positions, small spaces and among dust and debris that was dangerous to humans without suffering side effects, and their sensors could let human rescuers see better into the debris in the search for victims.
Since then the Packbots and a fleet of similar remote control and semi-autonomous drone robots have been
advanced and polished, becoming ever more useful in both military, crime-fighting and disaster situations. iRobot’s Packbots, in particular, have since been used in the cleanup of the Gulf oil spill, the cleanup and investigation of the reactor meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan, as well as a “string of bank robberies in the Boston area,” an iRobot spokesman tells Fast Company. This tech will only continue to get smarter—enabling both safer and smarter disaster recovery, and possibly military and police actions to prevent future terrorism.