Unmanned Aircraft Become Disaster-Relief Tools in Texas

1198_sensefly_texas Unmanned Aircraft Become Disaster-Relief Tools in TexasA test-site research team from the Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence & Innovation (LSUASC) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi has been dispatched to Wimberley, Texas, to conduct low-altitude research flights in the wake of devastating flooding.

The specific mission involves real-time aerial searches for missing persons, livestock and vehicles, according to Jerry Hendrix, chief engineer for the LSUASC test site and leader of the research team. “We will survey land areas, including bridge and critical infrastructure and roadways,” he explains. “It will be a general aerial assessment of damage due to storm and flooding.”

The Town of Wimberley, about 30 miles southwest of Austin, was struck May 25 by heavy flooding along the Blanco River; more than 400 homes were destroyed. Four deaths were reported in Hays County, and at least eight persons were reported missing. Nineteen storm-related deaths were reported in Texas and Oklahoma and 14 in Mexico, says the university.

The LSUASC test-site team of three people is based at a private ranch about five miles north of Wimberley. The research also “will assist in determining the process for use of UAS as a rapid-response tool in natural emergencies,’ as well as the ‘value’ of flying 200 feet or fewer in altitude – as recently authorized under blanket Certificates of Waiver or Authorization for all of the FAA UAS test sites – ‘for aerial surveillance under such conditions,” Hendrix adds.

The research vehicles include the following: an AscTec Falcon 8, provided by HUVRData of Austin and equipped with high-definition video and thermal-imaging cameras and multispectral sensors; a senseFly eBee, provided by Urban Engineering of Corpus Christi and equipped with a 16-megapixel camera and a 12-megapixel near-infrared camera; and a DJI Phantom quadcopter, provided by A&M-Corpus Christi’s iCORE Lab and the College of Science and Engineering and equipped with a 16-megapixel video camera and a forward-looking infrared camera.

The LSUASC team has been supported by Dr. Robin Murphy, director of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue at Texas A&M University in College Station. A team from Dr. John Valasek’s Center for Autonomous Vehicles and Sensor Systems at A&M is standing by to join the LSUASC effort.


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