This week, we bring you drones and robotic bugs that can help survey damaged sites and aid in disaster relief. Plus, solar cells that replicate the human eye to absorb more light and nanostructures to toughen steel.

The 25 finalists in the annual DARPA Robotics Challenge will soon be evaluated for their performance under distress. Beginning in June, the 'bots will be reviewed on such qualities as their dexterity, coordination, and even ability to drive a vehicle. Among the competitors is the Atrias bi-pedal bot (at top) from Oregon State University. A robot for your jobsite may not be too far off after all. [Wired]

Researchers at the University of New Mexico, San Diego State University, and BAE Systems are fitting drones with remote sensing systems and cameras to map damage to transportation infrastructure. These drones can be deployed immediately following a natural disaster. []

S. Schmitt / MPL

Researchers at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light in Germany mapped a small portion of the human eye called the fovea centralis to help improve the performance of solar cells. The fovea centralis contains numerous funnel-shaped cones that help us see details by capturing ample light. Applying similar structures in silicon to thin-film solar cells (above) increased light absorption by around 65 percent. [Gizmag]

Seattle-based startup Modumetal is bringing to market a self-purported low-cost fabrication process that increases the strength of metals, including steel, by up to a factor of 10. The process also augments corrosion resistance. The resulting material, which comprises nano-scale layers, can be manufactured in meters of length. [MIT Technology Review]

Cockroaches are rarely welcomed onsite or in a building. But researchers at Texas A&M University want to capitalize on the insects' small size and (otherwise frustrating) durability for disaster reconnaissance and even infrastructure maintenance review. The researchers fitted the cockroaches with a battery-powered wireless controller to manage their movements (as seen in the above video from The Guardian). They are now working on a noninvasive controls system. [The Guardian]