Providing the benefits of speed, portability and access, a pair ofunmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) surveyed storm-damaged communities inMiss. as part of the search for trapped survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
In what is one of the first deployments of such craft for disastersearch and rescue, the vehicles captured video imagery to helpresponders focus efforts and avoid hazards.
"The two UAVs packed a one-two punch," says Robin Murphy of theUniversity of South Florida (USF) and director of the NSF-supportedCenter for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR). "The fixed-wingprovided a quick overview of an area over several miles, but the use ofthe miniature helicopter to hover by buildings and on roofs--and totakeoff straight up--really offers new functionality."
Florida emergency responders surveying Pearlington, Miss., asked theSafety Security Rescue Research Center (SSRRC) team to respond toreports of floodwater-stranded survivors. Murphy led the effort withother members of the SSRRC, an NSF-supported industry-universitypartnership among USF, the University of Minnesota and numerous defenseand advanced technology companies.
Although houses pushed into the street during the storm surge blockedthe entrance into Pearlington, the unique capabilities of the UAVsallowed the team to launch the aircraft from an open patch of roadsurrounded by downed trees and power lines.
One of the UAVs is a 4-foot-long airplane with mounted videoand thermal imagery cameras that can capture details from as far awayas 1,000 feet. Launched by hand, the craft provides rescuers with abroad overview of the disaster area. In part because of the ease oflaunch and minimal, five-car-length distance needed for landing, thefixed-wing UAV is much easier to deploy than its full-scale counterpart.
The same holds for the other UAV, a camera-equipped, miniature,electric helicopter called a T-Rex. Provided by SSRRC partner Like90,the helicopter can hover at heights approaching 250 feet and zoom itscamera to peer inside windows or scan distant rooftops.
Within 2 hours, the vehicles provided responders with informationshowing that no survivors were trapped and the floodwaters from thecresting Pearl River did not pose an additional threat.
The vehicles are but two of many land- and aircraft operated by SSRRC,one of more than 40 NSF Industry - University Cooperative ResearchCenters (I/UCRCs). NSF provides a small investment to universities tostart the centers, and industry partners bring additional investmentand collaboration. NSF then maintains a supporting role with eachcenter as it evolves over a period of up to 10 years.
According to Rita Rodriguez, program officer for ComputingResearch Infrastructure at NSF and one overseeing the center, SSRRCcombines research efforts in robotics and robotic vision and involvesnot only industry, USF and UMN, but also undergraduate-focusedcolleges, such as Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minn., and BereaCollege in Berea, Ky.
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