How Disney’s Wall-Crawling Robot Can Save Lives

Equipped with some other modern components, a highly-capable rescue robot would be a boon for first responders.

Disney

The past year has been rife with calamity. Earthquakes in Nepal, wildfires in California, flooding in South Carolina and Texas and, currently, rising tides in Missouri. Search and rescue folks are a brave bunch, but disaster zones are hell on vehicles. The real shame of it? Transportation is most likely to falter when the stakes are highest.

These things, tsunamis and rubble and panic, they don’t exist in the world of Disney. At first blush, it seems incongruous that the next innovation for first responders could come from the Walt’s workshop. But that’s exactly what a new gizmo from Disney Research and ETH Zurich might be. Because, unlike other unmanned ground-based rescue robots, this VertiGo can climb walls.

A quick primer: Since 2001, rescue robots have been deployed at nearly 50 major disaster sites, including Fukushima and the World Trade Center. Prior to 2011, unmanned ground vehicles were the most commonly used type, eclipsing use of aerial and marine robots by nearly a two-to-one ratio. But, as drone technology has matured, UGV deployment has been almost entirely abandoned.

The VertiGo is still a prototype, and Disney isn’t saying when, or if, it’ll become a real-world product. But its practical uses, both in terms of recon and rescue, are compelling. Equipped with some other modern components (live-stream micro cameras; thermal imaging), a wall-crawling robot would be a boon for first responders.