I normally never find myself at a loss for words but this story has touched me so deeply that it’s hard for me to formulate a complete thought.  I cannot even begin without saying first how incredibly sad I am for the Japanese people and what they’ve endured.  From a 9.0 earthquake, tsunamis that have literally washed away whole villages, a death toll that’s probably going to be somewhere in the area of tens of thousands, radiation scares, food shortages and more, these people are really suffering and those of us who aren’t directly affected need to do what we can to help them through this.  Thankfully many people have already stepped up and are doing what they can to aid recovery efforts.

But groups of Samaritans aren’t the only ones pitching in.  Rescue robots are on the move, making their way to parts of Japan affected by the massive earthquake and tsunamis.  They’re traveling to the coastal areas that were devastated on Friday and in the days following, leaving nearly 6,000 people dead or missing (that number is expected to rise in the days and weeks to come).

A team from led by Satoshi Tadokoro is apparently on his way to Sendai with a very thin robot that can crawl into debris to hunt for people. Tadokoro and Japanese colleagues were out of the country at the time the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis occurred.  They were in Texas for a workshop when disaster struck Japan, but immediately returned to their country upon hearing the news to render any and all help they could.

The Active Scope Camera is a unique device.  Similar in design to a snake, it’s a 26-foot long fiberscope covered with a special servomotor system. It has hair-like structures that vibrate to move it forward at a top speed of 2.7 inches per second.  And it can slither into areas where people can’t in order to find survivors. 

Another robot getting ready to enter the rescue scene is Quince.  Quince rolls on treads and can sense chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear dangers in areas that firefighters don’t readily have access to and cannot get close enough to offer assistance. It has an onboard camera and can move about 5.2 feet per second.

In the meantime, colleagues from A&M University’s Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue are ready to send U.S.-based rescue bots if requested.  These would include more snake bots, some aerial vehicles and rovers that can be utilized on the ground for closer inspection of possibly damaged infrastructure.

Robots are an excellent addition to the rescue efforts, but please don’t forget just how valuable our contributions are in helping the Japanese people recover from this terrible disaster.

Today Japanese Emperor Akihita said the following, “I am deeply hurt by the grievous situation in the affected areas. The number of deceased and missing increases by the day. We cannot know how many victims there will be. My hope is that as many people possible are found safe.  I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times.”  

Thankfully there are many different options available if you’re interested in helping the people of Japan:

• Mercy Corps:  donations are being accepted to help survivors of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami through their longstanding partner, Peace Winds Japan. Donations will go to meeting the immediate and longer-term needs of the survivors. Text MERCY to 25283 to donate $10.

• Doctors Without Borders:  They’re about to start sending two three-person teams to the Iwate and Miyagi prefectures in Japan and could really use your help.

• Operation USA:  They’re in need of both monetary and bulk corporate donations of health care supplies. If you are interested in donating either, please be sure to visit their website.

• Paypal:  Judy Chang, head of their nonprofit group, announced that transactional fees incurred by money transfers to US 501(c)(3) organizations (or charities registered with the Canada Revenue Agency) between March 11 and April 10 will aid relief efforts in Japan.

• Convoy of Hope:  Their Disaster Response team is in contact with partners in Japan and identifying areas in the greatest need of assistance. Donations are being accepted online or by texting TSUNAMI to 50555 to donate $10 toward the relief efforts.

• AmeriCares: is asking for donations so they can provide medicine and medical supplies to victims of the disaster. Please visit their website to help.

• Global Giving:  They’ve set up a relief fund where you can make a donation, which will be distributed to relief and emergency services in the affected region.

• Direct Relief International: They’re reaching out to medical teams and emergency responders to offer assistance and could definitely use your donations.

• Save the Children:  Visit their website to donate.  They’re focused on helping the youngest victims who are always the most vulnerable when a natural disaster strikes.

• International Medical Corps:  Help by donating $10 by texting MED to 80888.

• The Red Cross:  make a $10 donation to the Red Cross by text messaging REDCROSS to 90999 or visit their website to donate online.