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.