Keynote speakers for closing day of Xponential tout 'Unmanned for Good' stories
Keynote speakers at Xponential's "Unmanned for Good" session stressed the benefits of unmanned aerial systems for the humanitarian and public safety communities and the responders who risk their lives to make everyone safer.
UAS and the data they provide are becoming so effective for tasks like fighting fires that it is becoming unethical not to use them, said Robin Murphy, professor of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M University.
This, said AUVSI President and CEO Brian Wynne, is "extremely meaningful."
"We have an obligation" to provide technology, said Commander Tom Madigan of the Alameda, California, County Sheriff’s Office.
Murphy, who also is with the Center for Robotic Assisted Search and Rescue, said the organization has helped with some 27 disasters and incidents, including 9/11, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Fukushima nuclear plant explosion and mud slides.
In two weeks, she said, the Center will be helping Puerto Rico prepare for the upcoming hurricane season.
Charles Werner, chair of the National Council on Public Safety UAS, said UAS in 2017 alone were used to monitor and help people recover from floods, three hurricanes, a tornado, an earth quake and wildfires.
He praised the Federal Aviation Administration for working hand-in-hand to ease the job of first responders operating unmanned aerial systems.
Madigan said the first step for UAS users in fighting the California wildfires was getting prompt FAA permission to fly in Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) areas.
He also said UAS technology was ultimately valuable for many reasons, including allowing residents to see exactly what had happened to their homes, even though they were not allowed to travel to them.
Some companies in the UAS constellation volunteered to help with the California wildfires, Madigan said. Pix4D, for example, used its advanced photogrammetry software to create 3-D models and maps of disaster-struck areas at no cost. After such scans, he said, cadaver dogs could be released without worrying that they would stumble on hot spots.
Mike Morgan, director of the Colorado Department of Fire Prevention and Control, said "being rapid" in responding to fires is critical, and that UAS fill the bill. UAS, working with manned aircraft carrying special sensors, form a game-changing team, he said.
Morgan said it was surprising to see how effective UAS technology can be. "Wow! We can do this easier!"
Murphy said she was surprised that while small UAS have been around since the 1990s, and were first used in 2005 in Hurricane Katrina, their use still is not widespread.
She also worried about the "avalanche of data" that comes from UAS. "How do you search through that?" Platforms, she said, will continue to evolve, but the issue will be data analysis.
She noted the interaction between UAS experts and local people who know the terrain. They can tell the experts precisely where to fly, she said.
Werner agreed that getting factual information is vital for meaningful decision-making.
Waves of autonomy
Chris Hernandez, senior vice president for research, technology and engineering at Northrop Grumman, identified three "waves" of UAS autonomy.
The first ran from the 1960s to 9/11 and was centered largely on reconnaissance; the second followed 9/11 and focused on conflict in the Middle East; and the third, under way now, centers on two UAS groups — one focused on "profit" and the other on "good."
Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk UAS got its start monitoring developments in Afghanistan, and now is being used by NASA to track hurricanes, Hernandez said. Another Northrop Grumman UAS initiative, PolarEye, involves tracking polar bears and gathering data on climate change.
AUVSI and drone-making heavyweight DJI presented five Humanitarian Awards, part of the new Xcellence Awards series.
Michael Perry, managing director of North America for DJI, joined AUVSI President and CEO Brian Wynne on stage to present the awards.
Valued at $5,000 each, the awards went to:
- Aeryon Labs, for Sky Ranger post-hurricane operations in St.Maarten
- DroneSAR, for its autonomous aerial search patterns
- ONG DroneSAR Chile, for its work with first responders and humanitarian relief
- Nepal Flying Lab, for its work in the wake of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal
- Zipline for its medial drone delivery program in Rwanda.
Next year’s Xponential is in Chicago, as was noted by Wynne and Michael Wilbur, AUVSI’s vice president of member services. Donning black hats, they did a shuffle from “The Blues Brothers” and invited the audience to next year’s show.
Below: The winners of the Humanitarian Awards, presented on the final day of Xponential 2018. Photo: Becphotography