Once the sole province of science fiction writers, robots of the stage, screen and written page typically took the form of humans — they stood on two legs and used pairs of arms, eyes and ears to simulate their flesh-and-blood counterparts’ motions and to perform tasks. Fictional robots also were likely to have their own brains. In real life, however, robots tend to be rolling or crawling slaves, generally operating as mobile instrument platforms for highly specific jobs in areas too hostile for human activity.To the public, robots today are known best for their explorations of Mars or for their use as combatants in popular robot-vs.-robot competitions on campuses and on television. Fewer people realize that robots are being developed and used every day for military purposes — keeping soldiers out of harm’s way as much as possible — and for search and rescue operations where dangerous territories must be examined for traces of hazards, such as spilled chemicals, or for people in need of aid, such as anyone who may be trapped inside a collapsed building.These utilitarian robots enter hostile areas and send back images or other data to their operators, who are stationed away from the search site. Acquiring information typically requires cameras, but developers have discovered over the years that different types of cameras provide very dissimilar levels of quality.To address the needs of developers and users of search- and-rescue robots specialized for urban environments, ASTM International of West Conshohocken, Pa., in collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology of Gaithersburg, Md., has issued a new set of standards. The document is designed to provide a systematic way to evaluate a robot’s visual capabilities in regard to the images that are transmitted back to the operator. For example, the publication offers test data that can help emergency workers select the right robotic system for their particular needs.The standard includes information on zoom and wide-field lenses as well as on far- and near-field visual acuity, taking into account both ambient light and onboard lighting systems.