Fire and police workers are known for rescuing people in distress, but engineers at the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue at the University of South Florida in Tampa (search) are designing robots that may one day save lives in ways humans never could.

Rescue robots have already proved useful — within hours of the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center more than a dozen remote robots were roaming the area looking for survivors, some roaming as deep as 90 feet in the rubble of Ground Zero.

“The robots were vital for us because they allowed us to get into a lot of deep recesses of the rubble at the World Trade Center with dogs or rescue people, so it's a great tool,” said John Holgerson, of Rescue Training Associates (search).

Engineers have now added high-tech sensors so the robots can touch skin and detect blood flow. Another sensor can detect traces of exhaled carbon dioxide to determine if human survivors are present.

USF Professor Robin Murphy said that since the mid '90s, “a small swarm of these robots that can see and smell have been kept here at USF, ready to be sent to any disaster at any time.” 

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