After natural disasters, it’s often difficult to reach the people who need the most help. Are small robots, able to fly above damaged areas or crawl into collapsed buildings, the answer?

Hurricanes, mudslides, earthquakes and terror attacks often leave widespread damage – and those injured can often be very hard to reach for search and rescue teams.

Robots can play a vital role in getting life-saving aid to those in need. In fact, Dr Robin Murphy, director of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue at Texas A&M University says they have already had an effect, having been used in incidents such as the 9/11 attacks and the Fukushima tsunami in 2011.

Robots help because they are small enough to enter confined spaces, or they can fly above damaged areas cut off from road transport, which allows rescuers isolated from the scene to find those in most urgent need of attention.  

Having been on site at Ground Zero in New York City within 24 hours of the 9/11 attack, she says robots have a big part to play because they are able to make "the invisible visible”.

Dr Murphy spoke to BBC Future at SXSW Interactive in Austin Texas.

Additional footage: BBC archive and Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (Tees) Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue.

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