Archive for April, 2016

CRASAR small UAS Assisted Fort Bend OEM with Determining Flooding

YouTube Preview ImageTexas A&M, US Datawing, USAA, Donan, and CartoFusion Technologies
donated manned and unmanned aerial system flights and advanced  visualization for the Fort Bend Office of Emergency Management on April 20 and 24, 2016. The flights and expertise were donated to the county as part of the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue’s Roboticists Without Borders program. The program facilitates companies and researchers to collaborating with emergency professionals. This was the third flooding event that CRASAR has flown small UAS at in the past year and the 23rd response since the 2001 World Trade Center disaster.

The team flew two different small UAS for a total of 10 flights covering approximately 1,000 acres in six different areas of Fort Bend county that were inaccessible. “We had some areas that had never flooded before and we needed to see why they were flooding,” said Adam Wright, project coordinator for Fort Bend County drainage, “there were other areas that have flooded in the past that we needed a better visual on to determine the the cause or extent.”

In addition, US Datawing, a San Antonio aerial analytics company, USAA, the insurance and financial services company, and Donan, a national forensic engineering consulting firm based in Kentucky, shared the costs of manned aircraft to fly Bessie Creek and Barker Reservoir. “We think of small UAS as one tier on a pyramid of aerial imagery assets that go from UAS to manned aircraft to satellites,” said Justin Adams from US Datawing and CRASAR’s lead pilot. “Fort Bend and the surrounding counties needed this bigger picture of the flood.” The manned flights also provide a baseline of high resolution imagery to compare with the data from small UAS, which effectively can cover only about 0.5 miles under current FAA rules. The 10 flights were completed in  just over 2 hours of flight time.

“The CRASAR partnership offered us the ability to access tools that were beyond our capabilities in-house at this point, utilizing the advanced image processing, equipment, and technology.” said Lach Mullen, a planner with Fort Bend County OEM.

“The point isn’t to use small UAS for everything but rather to get the right information to the right people,” added Dr. Robin Murphy, director of CRASAR. “We continue to learn about when to use small UAS versus manned aircraft and how to quickly prioritize and process the imagery- which is essential because the flights generated nearly half a terabyte of data.”

As part of the push to get the right data to the county, Cartofusion supplied SituMap, a software package that allowed easy overlaying of UAS imagery onto maps so that officials could quickly identify the location and extent of flood damage. It also showed where each image was taken. County drainage experts could scroll through the over 5,000 images collected by the UAS and manned aircraft, click on an image, and the location it was taken would appear on the map. Cartofusion is a start-up company spun out of Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. The development of SituMap has been shaped in part by the experiences of previous deployments with CRASAR, including the 2011 Japanese tsunami.

CRASAR also fielded the EMILY robot boat used in swift water rescue and evaluated whether it would be useful for reaching flooded areas in dense tree cover that would block the view from a UAS or manned aircraft. EMILY was developed by Hydronalix, another Roboticists Without Borders member, and deployed to assist with lifeguarding the influx of Syrian refugees on rickety boats into Greece.

Japanese earthquake: how ground, aerial, and marine robots could be used for response

We have been watching with distress the earthquake in Japan and offered any assistance we could provide- however, the first 48 hours are critical for life saving. The International Rescue System Institute (Tokoku University) and the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (Texas A&M University)  are the only two centers devoted to disaster robotics, and we work together, so there is considerable expertise available in Japan.

See below for how ground, aerial, and marine robots can be used and best practices are on the home page. Disaster Robotics has 34 case studies worldwide of how these robots have been used at previous earthquakes and disasters through 2013.

I’ll be adding photos and video as I get a chance– this weekend is Aggies Invent: First Responders that we are sponsoring and have two exciting projects based on CRASAR identified (there are 12 others submitted by other response agencies).

Ground robots for locating survivors inside the rubble and speeding up extrication.

Canines typically find survivors but can’t precisely locate where the survivors. Plus dogs can’t provide the “inside view” of the pile of pixie sticks that the extrication team has to be careful not to disturb.  People and canines often can’t get into the rubble because there is often not even a person or dog sized hole that goes all the way from the surface to the interior. Existing boroscopes and cameras on wands can reach about 18 feet or 6 meters into the pile, which means standard US&R equipment is sufficient for single family homes but not apartment buildings or multi-story commercial buildings which are bigger and deeper.

In those case small robots, the size of a lunchbox or smaller, have been used since 2001 (CRASAR at the 9/11 World Trade Center) in go further inside the rubble to where survivors might be and providing the “two for one” of letting the structural specialist visualize how to best remove the rubble to extract. Dr. Tadokoro’s group has one of my favorite small robots, the Active Scope Camera,  that we used together at the Jacksonville Berkman Plaza II collapse. It’s a 6 meter long “caterpillar” robot that can fit in 5cm voids.
Big robots like those used at Fukushima are less valuable because the voids are smaller and the robots can’t move rubble without risking triggering a secondary collapse that will kill the survivors.

UAVs for general reconnaissance and structural inspection.

UAVs have been used since 2005 for disaster response (yes, starting with CRASAR at Hurricane Katrina). The most common uses have been small UAVs for general reconnaissance and for structural inspection. With photogrammetrics, small UAVs are providing geospatial data that are of value to the geologists and public works groups trying to prevent floods, slides, and further collapses. In general, small UAVs are used more frequently because formal responders like the police or fire rescue have access to helicopters and planes. In more remote areas there may be less coverage, so local assets are important. See best practices for UAVs.
One important lesson from the 3/11 earthquake was that the number 1 place to check to see if it was ok and functioning is a hospital!

UMVs for critical underwater infrastructure inspection and reopening ports.

Unmanned marine vehicles, especially ROVs and miniature boats, have been used since 2005 to inspect bridges and reopen ports immediately after an earthquake so that responders can gain access to the affected areas AND get supplies to the hard hit areas. The value of UMVs extends well into the recovery period, both for inspection but also help remap fishing and shipping
channels.