Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.
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32 unmanned systems inside February/March 2017 AIR SEARCH AND RESCUE Larger Missions While drones are great tools in the search for missing individuals, they also help first re- sponders deal with disasters. The Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation has f lown UAS in f looding situa- tions, the most recent being in response to the Blanco River flooding in Texas in the spring of 2016. The 43-foot f lood surge scattered debris miles deep on each side of the river's banks, said Jerry Hendrix, executive director of the center. Homes were destroyed and people were lost in the trees, building parts and other detritus car- ried by the water. Pilots in helicopters couldn't see into the river and the debris made it nearly impossible for any sort of kayaker or powerboat operator to survey the f looded areas. Downed power lines and high water also made it a dan- gerous environment for rescuers. The drones were able to fly over areas no one else could get to, giving emergency personnel a more precise view of where someone might be. Both fixed-wing and multi-rotor UAS can be used in these types of disasters, said Robin Murphy, director of the Center for Robot-As- sisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) at Texas A&M University, who responded to the Texas f lood. Drones with vertical take-off and land- ing (VTOL) tend to be the easiest to deploy in these often harsh, rough-terrain environments and have the ability to hover and stare. Fixed- wings offer longer endurance and can cover larger areas. Each has its place in search and rescue, depending on the situation. No matter what types of drones are used dur- ing a disaster—or ground or marine unmanned systems for that matter—these robots help speed up that initial reaction, which speeds up the recovery process and ultimately reduces the cost of the disaster, Murphy said. "Everything is time dependent," Murphy said. "With UAS, you need a system that lets you interrupt the path and go back to look at details to help you make decisions that could be life and death or that could save hundreds of thousands of dollars." Artificial intelligence can be used to process the data drones collect more quickly and effi- ciently, Murphy said, which is key during disas- ters. During a recent flooding event, for example, the University of Maryland and the University of California Berkley developed algorithms to identify piles of debris that were the right shape and size to have people in them, helping direct responders to the right areas to search. Basarnas, a search and rescue organization in Indonesia, recently began using Swiss Drones UAS to help locate missing people, said Dennis "WE CAN DROP life jackets, water bottles, medical supplies and walkie talkies right into their hands." Vinal Applebee, section leader and chief UAV pilot, Down East Emergency Medicine Institute (DEEMI) Photos courtesy of RPFlight Systems and the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) at Texas A&M University (Right) An image with GPS coordinates taken during at RP Flights Systems mission. (Below) The Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation at Texas A&M Corpus Christi has deployed drones to help in flooding events.