November 1, 2008 Research technologists using science and engineering have developed an aerial imaging system for the Center for Disease Control that can help them see how many people need help after a natural disaster, and where they are located. The imaging system, called a Mini Mod-Pod, uses a basic, off the shelf canon digital camera. These pictures are combined with global positioning software to pinpoint the location and inertial measurements to identify people.
Thousands of people in Texas are still cleaning up after Hurricane Ike's devastation. One of the toughest tasks for relief agencies after a disaster is assessing where and how many people need help. Scientists have developed a new, low-cost imaging system that could make a lifesaving difference.
Days after Hurricane Katrina, Blake Moore, a pilot with Air Atlanta Helicopters in Atlanta, Ga., saw the devastation firsthand from the air.
"Katrina was amazing," said Moore. "You could fly for 50 miles and the destruction was just from one mile to 50 miles. It was just as vast as you can imagine."
Scientists and engineers at Georgia Tech Research Institute say a new imaging device could be the key to getting help where it's needed more quickly after a natural disaster.
"If the helicopter would carry this camera along, it could snap pictures continuously, and they could be downloaded when they land," said David Price, a research technologist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. "We could piece them all together and determine if there are refugees that hadn't been picked up or noticed yet."
The imaging system, called a mini mod-pod, uses a basic off-the-shelf Canon digital camera. Pictures are combined with global positioning software to pinpoint the location and inertial measurements to identify people. This creates hundreds of high-resolution aerial photos comparable to what you would see from a satellite.
"You can get almost as good, and sometimes better, resolution, and you can get it immediately rather than have to wait your turn in a queue to get access to a satellite," Price said.
In minutes, the photos can be stitched together to form a mosaic covering hundreds of miles, showing authorities exactly where and how many people on the ground need help. "What a great resource and ability to be able to get those people out," Moore said.
Researchers hope to get the mini mod-pod into the air as soon as possible so it's ready to help when the next disaster strikes.
ABOUT GPS: The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system made up of a network of 24 satellites placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense. GPS was originally intended for military applications, but in the 1980s, the government made the system available for civilian use. GPS works in any weather conditions, anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day. GPS satellites circle the earth twice a day in a very precise orbit and transmit signal information to earth. GPS receivers take this information and use a combination of signals to calculate the user's exact location. Essentially, the GPS receiver compares the time a signal was transmitted by a satellite with the time it was received. The time difference tells the GPS receiver how far away the satellite is. Now, with distance measurements from a few more satellites, the receiver can determine the user's position and display it on the unit's electronic map.
WHAT ARE PIXELS: "Pixel" is short for picture element, and represents a single point in a graphic image. Graphics monitors display images by dividing the screen into thousands (or millions) of pixels, arranged in rows and columns. A megapixel equals one million pixels. Pixels are a measure of digital image quality: the more pixels, the better. The modern digital camera works on the same principle as a conventional camera, but instead of focusing light onto a piece of film, it focuses it onto an image sensor array -- called a charged coupled device (CCD) -- made of tiny light-sensitive diodes that convert light into electrical charges. It turns the fluctuating waves of light (analog data) into bits of digital computer data. The more sensors that are packed onto the CCD's surface, the higher the pixel count, and the higher the resolution of the final image.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc - USA, contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.