Nov. 25, 2005 With funding from the National Science Foundation, a team from USF’s Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) will return to sites in Hurricane Katrina’s destructive path. Armed with the miniature helicopters the team used on-site in the aftermath of Katrina to carry out aerial surveillance of the damage, they are returning to address two research objectives.
“Our first objective is to provide photo-documentation of multi-story commercial structures along the Mississippi Gulf Coast that can be used by the structural engineering community,” said CRASAR director Robin Murphy. “The second objective is to develop the payloads and procedures needed to foster the effective use of helicopters by the larger engineering community, including structural engineers during the response and recovery, and for use by insurance adjusters.”
During the initial Hurricane Katrina response, the CRASAR (http://www.crasar.org) team surveyed damage using the battery-powered miniature helicopter provided by Like90 (see attachment) that can operate up to 300 feet in the air and in a 0.25 mile radius. The Like90 platform will be taken back in the field with improved optics.
In addition to these two objectives, the CRASAR team will be collecting data on team performance and will experiment with new optic and range sensors that may support autonomous operation of the helicopters during night operations.
“Our return to Katrina is for research, but the return could have immediate practical benefits,” explained Murphy, who speculates that inexpensive miniature helicopters designed specifically for structural disasters will likely become commercially available in time for next year’s hurricane season. “Their use could radically change how structural assessment is conducted during a disaster as well as speed up the claims adjustment process, accelerating economic relief to survivors and facilitating faster economic redevelopment.”
Clicking on (http://crasar.csee.usf.edu/Videos/Katrina/slides/VTOL%20Bay%20St%20Louis%209-1-05.html) demonstrates how the helicopters can access structures and bridges that may be impossible for structural engineers to reach because of damage or lack of access where entry may pose risks to engineers.
“Video obtained by the mini-helicopters can provide views difficult to achieve otherwise and help identify points of building structural failure,” explained Murphy.
With infrastructure support from the Emergency Operation Center in Kiln, MS and Jackson State University’s National Center for Biodefense Communications (NCBC) and using the Internet, the CRASAR team will post data nightly to a volunteer structural advisory board (SAB) of leading structural specialists from across the nation and a nightly internet teleconference will be held with the SAB to review findings, identify improvements, determine the critical data and provide general feedback.
Members of the media will be able to embed with the CRASAR team Dec. 2-4. However, the team may depart early if the mission is completed early. B-roll will be provided. The team will be based out of EOC in Kiln, MS on the Mississippi-Louisiana border and operate in Biloxi and Gulfport.
The team consists of Murphy, principal research scientist; Sam Stover, Executive Director of the USF Safety Security Rescue Research Center (SSR-RC is an NSF industry/university cooperative research center); Chandler Griffin, CEO of Like90, LLC, and industry member of the SSR-RC who flew mini-helicopters after Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma; and Kevin Pratt, a graduate student who assisted with the helicopter deployment after Wilma. Murphy will serve as the principal scientist, Stover as safety officer and US&R operations advisor, Griffin as primary pilot and Pratt will serve as backup pilot and science support.
The research is sponsored by the NSF in partnership with Jackson State University’s National Center for Biodefense Communications and NSF’s Safety Security Rescue Research Center.
The University of South Florida is on track to become one of the nation’s top 50 public research universities. USF received more than $287 million in research contracts and grants last year, and it is ranked by the National Science Foundation as one of the nation’s fastest growing universities in terms of federal research and development expenditures. The university has a $1.1 billion annual budget and serves nearly 43,250 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota/Manatee and Lakeland. In 2005, USF entered the Big East athletic conference.
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