Increasingly, vision-guided service robots are being deployed for rescue and assessment tasks following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. A recent blog on IEEE Spectrum covers the deployment of KOHGA3 by a team from Kyoto University.
The team used the remote-controlled ground robot to enter a gymnasium in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, in the northeastern portion of Japan's Honshu island, and assess damages. They tried to inspect other damaged buildings in the region with limited success.
The robotics team is led by Professor Fumitoshi Matsuno. KOHGA3 has four sets of tracks that allow it to traverse rubble, climb steps, and go over inclines up to 45 degrees. The robot carries three CCD cameras, a thermal imaging camera, laser scanner, LED light, attitude sensor, and a gas sensor. Its 4-degrees-of-freedom robotic arm is nearly 1 meter long and equipped with CCD camera, carbon-dioxide sensor, thermal sensor, and LED light.
In addition, there are several early reports on robot forays or plans, and numerous teams from various robot organizations are making themselves available to help. For example, you can follow the efforts in Japan of Dr. Robin Murphy, who directs the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) at Texas A&M University, on her blog.