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How to Fly at Floods: Summer Institute PLUS Roboticists Without Borders UAV training

One word about the floods and about UAVs: informatics. Read on to see what I mean ;-)

As I blogged earlier, on July 16-28, the Center for Emergency Informatics’ 2015 Summer Institute is on flooding and will bring together state agencies and municipalities who were part of the Texas floods with researchers and industry for a two-day workshop and 1 day exercise. The exercise will include UAVs flying the missing persons missions and the recovery and restoration missions.

Notice that it’s the Center for Emergency Informatics hosting the event because it’s about the right data getting to the right agencies or stakeholders at the right time and displayed in the right way that will enable them to make the right decisions. UAVs (and marine vehicles such as Emily and the small airboats being developed at Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, and University of Illinois) have a big role to play. But UAVs are useful only if the entire data-to-decision process works, aka informatics.

The Summer Institute July 26-28 will also host a training session for Roboticists Without Borders members specifically on UAVs and the best practices of how to fly at floods and upcoming hurricanes and collect the useful data– what do the decision makers need? Again, this is the informatics, the science of data, not the aeronautics. The training is independent of platform- because what the decision makers need is what they need ;-)   The current (and evolving) best practices are derived from three sources:

  1. CRASAR RWB deployments going back to 2005 Hurricane Katrina Pearl River cresting and including the Oso Mudslides and our deployment with Lone Star UAS Center to the Texas floods,
  2. the reports and analyses of what has worked at typhoons and other flooding events worldwide, and
  3. what researchers through out the world, especially the IEEE Safety, Security, and Rescue Robotics technical community, are doing.

For example, video is not as useful as high resolution imagery for searching for missing persons. Infrared isn’t helpful except in the early morning. Some missions and terrains require remote presence style of control, other can use preprogrammed flight paths. Complex terrains such as river bluffs may require flight paths that are vertical slices, not horizontal slices. Many more and I’m sure we will learn more from each other.

The training session will consist of evening classes on July 26 and 27, with field work on July 28 at the 1,900 acre Riverside Campus. We will fly fixed-wing and rotorcraft for response missions (reconn, missing persons, flood mitigation) and for recovery/restoration (damage assessment, debris estimation, household debris estimation, power utility assessment, transportation assessment). The scenarios will be designed by experts from Texas Task Force 1 and the representatives from the agencies that would use the information, including the fire rescue, law enforcement,  Texas insurance commission, SETRAC, etc.).

It’s not too late to join Roboticists Without Borders and attend! It’s free.

Hope to see you there!

 

Summer Institute Dates Announced (finally!) July 26-28

The 2015 Summer Institute on Flooding will be held on July 26-28 at the Riverside Campus, College Station, Tx.  Check out the information at http://crasar.org/?p=1834

 

Drone Helps Rescue 2 Boys from Raging River

Two boys needed to be rescued from the raging Little Androscoggin River in Maine after their tube overturned Tuesday. Only one of them was wearing a life jacket. Frank Roma, chief of the Auburn fire department, wanted to get that boy a life jacket before attempting the rescue. The water was rough, and rescuers had a hard time getting to the boys, so they used Roma’s personal drone to deliver a life jacket and a safety line to the boys.

“We wanted to make sure we got a life jacket on that second child so that if they did fall in the water we could catch them downstream,” said Roma. “We used the drone to fly a tag line out to the young man that was on the rock, we instructed him to untie and to pull life jacket over to him.”

Check out more information here

Robot boats as swift water rescuers, not just for critical infrastructure and restoration/recovery operations anymore!

EMILY at swift water exercise in Texas

EMILY at swift water exercise in Texas

Grant Wilde and Gino Chacon observed the EMILY rescue boat, a new concept in disaster robotics. I have followed Tony Mulligan and his work with EMILY since 2012 and EMILY is really gaining acceptance. He demoed the boat this week during a swift water exercise (which our partners Austin Fire Department participated in- thanks Coitt for the directions!) The robot acts as a barrel-shaped life ring. An operator teleoperates EMILY to a victim in the water and the victim grabs it. The operator then uses the tether to pull EMILY and her cargo to safety.

Creator Tony Mulligan assembling EMILY

Creator Tony Mulligan assembling EMILY

We’ve been pinged many times by fire rescue teams about swift water rescue- though about the use of UAVs. Swift water has many challenges, one of which is that the rescue crew in their boat is at risk for being struck by debris speeding into them. The idea was the UAV could act as a spotter and help coordinate the safety of responders and victims alike. EMILY bypasses some of the challenge by eliminating the responder.
Grant and Gino are working a slightly smaller robot boat for shallow littoral areas, definitely not swift water, for radiation sampling for treaty verification, identifying flood vulnerable areas (with the Hazards Reduction and Recovery Center), and general environmental sampling. Some nuclear power plants or towns can be readily accessed by creeks even if roads are out. Dr. Josh Peschel, a former PhD student now at University of Illinois, is working with these marine platforms to better understand water management.
EMILY assembled and ready to go

EMILY assembled and ready to go

Gino filming EMILY

Gino filming EMILY

Stop Laughing at Those Clumsy Humanoid Robots

The Humanoid Robot, built like a linebacker with an oversized head, tiptoes on two feet through the dirt. It’s free of any wires. It’s unleashed—but it’s now wavering. They were all part of a competition in Pomona, California put on by Darpa, the far-out research wing of the Pentagon. After the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Darpa set out to encourage the development of robots that can assist in similar catastrophes: machines capable of working where humans dare not go. And so the yearly Darpa Robotics Challenge was born.

To explore something like a contaminated nuclear reactor, a robot would have to conquer not only piles of rubble in the facility, but also be able to open doors and climb stairs and ladders. In a human-designed space, the thinking goes, a humanoid robot would be best equipped to handle the job. And indeed, for all their clumsiness, the semi-autonomous robots (human operators still do much of the controlling in the challenge) passed some impressive tests, including driving an ATV.

The thing is, relief workers have had operational “tracked” robots for 15 years that roll along on tank-like treads. They even helped out in the aftermath of Fukushima, and still run tests there to this day. Bipedal humanoids, on the other hand, have never gotten near an actual disaster. They’re expensive, and you don’t have to be a physicist to notice these robots are top heavy.

So why even bother developing bipeds? Well, when Darpa’s handing out $2 million for first place in its challenge, building a walking robot that drives ATVs must seem like a sweet deal.

Check out more information at wired.com

N.C. State team pioneers backpack-wearing cockroaches that can explore disaster areas

Researchers at N.C. State are developing technology that equips cockroaches to enter disaster areas and send back information for search-and-rescue missions. The insects carry backpacks that contain a small microphone and radio transmitter.

These enhanced insects – dubbed biobots or cyborgs – have been developed by Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at N.C. State, and others over the past eight years. Working initially with moths and, later, cockroaches, the scientists equipped the insects to pick up sounds too distant or faint to be heard outside the rubble.

Another facet of the technology allows the insects also to send signals to one another. “It’s a neighbor-to-neighbor interaction that allows someone to build a map,” explained Edgar Lobaton, a robotics engineer and assistant professor in NCSU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “These little agents move around and continuously communicate with each other by sending out radio signals. We are learning to take this information, put it in a computer, and create a map of the area.”

Check out more information here!

Update: Flooding disasters continue to mount casualties and challenge response efforts

We are working with our partner the Lone Star Unmanned Aerial System Center, one of the 6 FAA test centers, to help support the flooding response and recovery efforts for the Texas floods. The floods are a sad example of how flooding costs the U.S. more than 80 lives and $8 billion in damages each year. And that excludes storm surge from hurricanes.

Technology based solutions have advanced to where employing robotic assisted solutions can aide in crisis assessments by federal, state and local officials and emergency workers. Yet more data adds another layer of complexity and extra coordination of robot assisted efforts.

Accurate ground and aerial surveys can help decision makers choose where to deploy limited resources in the best way. By quickly identifying survivors, any follow on threats from the natural disaster, collecting measurements of debris fields, volume of water flows or similar data can be provided without endangering the emergency responders.

Water gone wild and what the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) is working to do:

Texas A&M’s Center for Emergency Informatics (CEI) continues its two-year study of information technologies, including unmanned systems, in response to floods. The CEI brings together practitioners, academics, and industry experts to converge and test their knowledge hardware and software to respond to an array of water borne disasters.

CEI as the host for the Summer Institute on Flooding, slated for June 16-18, will set the stage for testing ideas, marry technologies and coordinate decision makers in real-time flood based scenarios

From the 2014 summer institute 42 representatives from 12 states tapping 14 agencies, 14 universities, and eight businesses were able to judge what information technology was mature enough, or which needs more development to assist with flooding response.

This year’s summer institute will include three exercises, each representing the key problem missions identified by the participating agencies:

  • Swift water rescue – a scenario has been developed where suddenly rising waters cut off helping responders to rescue people. Responders from Texas Task Force 1 using the characteristics of a campground flooding will be offered realistic challenges. The TEEX designed exercises focus on real missions rather than around technologies.
  • Life-saving response and immediate mitigation: identify best ways to assess where’s the flood, who is at risk?
  • Restoration and recovery- exercise decision making for resource allocation to restore roads, electricity, sewage, etc. And engaging insurance companies to conduct property damage assessment and projections of debris generation estimation to manage post flooding problems with decay, vermin and disease.

The growth of small UAVs and flooding response:

Small UAVs have been tasked for at least eight disasters with flooding or had flooding associated with it:

  • Hurricane Katrina 2005
  • Typhoon Morakot, Taiwan 2009
  • Thailand Floods 2011
  • Typhoon Haiyan, Philippines 2013
  • Boulder Colorado floods 2013
  • Oso Washington Mudslides 2014
  • Balkans flooding Serbia 2014
  • Cyclone Pamela Vanuatu 2014

From the several UAV platforms that went airborne each provided rapid and often timely information to officials and for responders in search and rescue missions as well as the difficulties with recovery.

General reconnaissance: addressing where’s the flooding, where are the people cut off by the flooding, and what roads are still passable.

Hydrological situation awareness: both real-time and post-processed. The flooding caused by the Oso mudslide was a real problem and rotorcraft could hover and stare at the river, letting the hydrologists estimate the flow rate in different areas. The biggest need remains surveying the amount of flooding. And with the addition of photogrammetric image software – UAVs provided details of the terrain and potential for additional flooding or the best place to put a dyke, channel or other mitigation. Our partners at FIT took it further and printed out a 3D model of the terrain to help everyone visualize the terrain.

The power of Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles:

  • Over watch for swift water rescue teams: our friends at South Carolina Task Force 1 have been pushing us to help create the protocols for using small UAVs. Seeing something such as a logjam that might be coming down river and pose a threat to life and limb as they work to rescue people. They’ll get their wish as this is one of the scenarios to be unfolded in our 2015 Summer Institute on Flooding in June hosted by CEI.
  • Debris estimation: both the debris directly from the flood and the indirect debris that follows on from people having to rip out sheet rock and toss water logged carpets. The advances in photogrammetrics make it possible to estimate the volume of debris. That is based on having the “before” survey of the area. To test it, we flew with PrecisionHawk at the Bennett Landfill superfund site in February 2015 to estimate the volume of toxic trash, which was on fire and needed to be safely removed. Part of the data analysis included estimating the content type, because vegetation and construction materials have to get handled and processed differently.
  • Delivery of supplies to isolated regions. We learned during last year’s summer institute that if the locals can hold their own for 72 hours, usually that was sufficient. In Texas, where breeding stock can represent hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment, someone to stay behind may make sense. Determining that they are not a victim is vital. Disasters can take people by surprise with a bridge being washed out or a vital need of medicines and other perishables. A group of Texas A&M aerospace students won 2nd place for their small, hefty fixed-wing UAV that could be used to drop off heavier/bigger bundles of supplies from further distances. Groups like Matternet, who like CRASAR are members of FIT, are looking at delivering medicine with rotorcraft.
  • Delivering lifelines, life jackets, and small things to people trapped on roofs: A note about delivering things with a rotorcraft- Using rotorcraft to carry a line or bottle to someone is complicated by the weight and distribution of them. Those factors usually make the UAV very sensitive to wind and control errors. As such, if an open rotor system is used, more distance than normal from a person is needed to account for such errors. One senior design project from last year’s Summer Institute created a two-way audio system for rotorcraft. Since rotors can generate about 85 dB of noise hanging a microphone and speaker on the UAV is ineffective. The Computer Engineering team used noise reduction algorithms from National Instruments LabVIEW to prototype a lightweight 2-way audio system impervious to noise.

Look for more to come from the 2015 Summer Institute for Flooding, June 16-18.

 

Flooding and small UAVs

At this time, we aren’t involved in the horrible Texas and Oklahoma flooding. But we’ve been studying flooding since our deployment with Hurricane Charley in 2004. This blog will give a short background on what we do here at A&M and the upcoming 2015 Summer Institute on Flooding, then the history of small UAVs for flooding, and the potential uses generated by experts at our 2014 Summer Institute on Flooding.

About CRASAR and flooding

The Center for Emergency Informatics (CEI) here at Texas A&M is in the middle of a two-year exploration of information technologies, including unmanned systems, for floods. The CEI is a “center of center” that brings together practitioners, academics, and industry to fuse and apply their knowledge to disasters.  CRASAR is the “response” arm for CEI (actually we do participatory research versus response- similar to what anthropologists like Margaret Mead do. Sometimes the only way to learn is by doing by embedding with the responders, we don’t do disaster tourism).

The CEI is hosting a Summer Institute on Flooding June 16-18, the second on flooding. The choice of flooding was motivated by the fact that flooding is costing the U.S. over 80 lives and $8 billion in damages each year, excluding storm surge from hurricanes. Last year’s summer institute brought together 42 representatives and 12 states from 14 agencies, 14 universities, and 8 companies to consider what information technology is mature enough, or needs a bit of encouragement, to assist with flooding response.

This year’s Summer Institute consists of three exercises, each representing the key problem missions identified by the agencies:

  1. Swift water rescue (June 16)- helping responders rescue people suddenly cut off by rising waters. The plan for the swift water rescue reads like the campground flooding- showing the advantage of having the responders from Texas Task Force 1 and TEEX design exercises around real missions rather than around technologies.
  2. Life-saving response and immediate mitigation (June 17)- where’s the flood, who is at risk?
  3. Restoration and recovery (June 18)- restoring roads, electricity, sewage, etc. as well as insurance companies conducting property damage assessment  and cities generating debris estimation so that they can keep the rats out.

About small UAVs and flooding

Small UAVs have been used at least 8 disasters from flooding or had flooding associated with it: Hurricane Katrina 2005, Typhoon Morakot, Taiwan 2009, Thailand Floods 2011, Typhoon Haiyan Philippines 2013, Boulder Colorado floods 2013, Oso Washington Mudslides 2014, Balkans flooding Serbia 2014, and Cyclone Pamela Vanuatu 2014.

Historically they have been used for:

  • General reconnaissance: where’s the flooding, where are the people cut off by the flooding, and what roads are still passable.
  • Hydrological situation awareness, both real-time and post-processed. The flooding caused by the Oso mudslide was a real problem and rotorcraft were considered because they could hover and stare at the river, letting the hydrologists estimate the flow rate in different areas. The biggest push was for surveying the amount of flooding and- with the addition of photogrammetric image software- the terrain and potential for additional flooding (or the best place to put a dyke, channel or other mitigation). Our partners at FIT took it further and printed out a 3D model of the terrain to help everyone visualize the terrain.

Potential uses for UAVs

  • Overwatch for swift water rescue teams: our friends at South Carolina Task Force 1 have been pushing us to help create the protocols for using small UAVs to help them see that a logjam is coming down river and going to wipe them and the people they are trying to rescue out. This is one of the scenarios we will be playing in our Summer Institute on Flooding in June
  • Debris estimation: both the debris directly from the flood and the indirect debris a few days or weeks later from people having to rip out sheet rock and carpets. The advances in photogrammetrics make it possible to estimate the volume of debris— if you have the “before” survey of the area; we flew with PrecisionHawk at the Bennett Landfill superfund site in February in order to estimate the volume of toxic trash (which was on fire) that needed to be safely removed. The next step is to estimate the content, because vegetation and construction materials have to get handled and processed differently.
  • Deliver supplies to cut off regions. We learned during last year’s summer institute that if the locals can hold out for 72 hours, usually that’s sufficient. Indeed, in Texas, where breeding stock can represent hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment, it may make sense for someone to stay behind. But sometimes people get taken by surprise or a bridge washes out unexpectedly and need diabetes medicine and other perishables. Groups like Matternet, who like CRASAR are members of FIT,  are looking at delivering medicine with rotorcraft. A group of Texas A&M aerospace students won 2nd place for their small but hefty fixed-wing UAV that could be used to drop off heavier/bigger bundles of supplies from further distances
  • Delivering lifelines, life jackets, and small things to people trapped on roofs. A note about delivering things with a rotorcraft- You can use rotorcraft to carry a line or bottle to someone but the weight and distribution usually makes the UAV very sensitive to wind and control errors— if you are using a open rotor system just be aware and maintain more distance than normal from a person if at all possible. One senior design project that resulted from last year’s Summer Institute was to create a 2-way audio system for rotorcraft. The rotors generate about 85 dB of noise so if you’re a responders and want to try to talk with a person by hanging a microphone and speaker on the UAV, it probably won’t work. The Computer Engineering design team used noise reduction algorithms from National Instruments LabVIEW to prototype a lightweight 2-way audio system impervious to noise.

 

 

 

 

CBC: Nepal earthquake: Drones used by Canadian relief team

Nepal earthquake: Drones used by Canadian relief team

Wired: Disaster-Relief Tech Goes All-Out In Nepal

WIRED article