Scientists Link Unmanned Vehicles with Network for Homeland Security

December 11, 2006

Researchers at The University of Alabama in Huntsville have developed unmanned aerial and ground vehicles, but the real innovation is how these vehicles can work together with an information network to provide real-time data to first responders and emergency personnel.

Researchers at The University of Alabama in Huntsville sit in a darkened basement conference room at Von Braun Research Hall. A projector flashes an aerial view of the university's campus on the screen. The Google Earth image has been enhanced by software that has created three-dimensional buildings on the south end of the campus.

A small image appears in the northeast corner of the aerial photograph, representing the university’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) — the Flying BASSETT. Minutes earlier, the UAV had dropped off an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) nicknamed the Rover, which was slowly trudging toward what could be a hazardous spot.

As Rover approached the suspicious location, a sensor issues an alert. The alert pops up in the corner of the display screen — cyclohexane. It is a colorless liquid that is flammable and is deemed harmful for the environment.

As the scientists track the movements of Rover from a safe distance, the path of the UGV changes from white, to yellow and finally to red. The screen is refreshed every two seconds to provide real-time tracking. The ground vehicle has provided valuable information to the researchers by giving them a location, but also what types of danger they may face. The UGV also carries a camera that can provide a close view of the site. Simultaneously, the UAV continues to hover overhead and provide streaming aerial video of the location.

Dr. Gary Maddux, a research scientist and the director of UAH’s Systems Management and Production Center, said the UAV could use sensors, but they are more practical on the ground vehicle because most chemicals are heavier than air.

Researchers at The University of Alabama in Huntsville developed the UAV and UGVs in their laboratories. And, while the development of unmanned vehicles are proving to be valuable, the real innovation is how these vehicles can work together with an information network to provide real-time data to first responders, according to Maddux.

“The real value in our research is our ability to integrate these unmanned systems,” Maddux said. “I view our unmanned aerial and ground vehicles as extended nodes of a large information network.”

The first “node” of this network revolved around the development of the Flying BASSETT — UAH’s first unmanned aerial vehicle.

The BASSETT was developed initially through a grant from the Department of Justice in support of homeland security. UAH researchers interviewed first responder organizations across North Alabama prior to developing hardware. “We were able to establish the concept of a global view of homeland security through interviews we conducted in 2003 and 2004,” Maddux said.

This autonomously guided helicopter can operate in flight by either responding to pilot directions or through programmed Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) coordinates. The system carries the latitude and longitude coordinates to eight decimal points making the location highly accurate. Maddux said the Flying BASSETT can carry up to 20 pounds, hover for 60 minutes and potentially make a trip of 25 miles.

The BASSETT’s capabilities include the ability to “see” real-time images through a Sony digital camera, an infrared camera, and a three-channel video switcher.

UAH’s Systems Management and Production Center has also developed Rover, a lightweight, unmanned ground vehicle. The four-wheel-drive vehicle is a foot long and weighs about three pounds. The light weight of the Rover allows the UGV to be transported and deployed closer to a troubled site by the Flying BASSETT, and the two unmanned vehicles work in tandem to transmit live data and video feeds to a control station at a safe distance from a problem site.

Maddux sees the two unmanned vehicles as “tools” to give vital information to emergency personnel who may be called out for a disaster, whether it is a toxic chemical spill, a nuclear disaster or some other type of emergency.

“Situational awareness is a key part of responding to a disaster,” Maddux said. “We want to provide as much pertinent information as possible to police, fire or medical personnel, or a soldier.”

The combination of the two unmanned vehicles working together and getting real-time information using Google Earth satellite images gives Maddux the confidence to say that UAH’s capability in this arena is unique. “We believe we can demonstrate capabilities that don’t exist anywhere else,” he said. “Our researchers continue to look at how all of these pieces fit together and work seamlessly as a system. That is our objective. That is the real value of this system for first responders.”

Source: University of Alabama Huntsville

Explore further: Amazon ignores Trump's attacks as it molds a business empire

Related Stories

Saildrone to provide valuable ocean data

January 26, 2018

Ocean research that seeks to monitor what is happening in the ocean environment—counting fish, assessing food resources, monitoring endangered species included—provides vitally important answers.

Swarming drones could help fight Europe's megafires

March 20, 2018

Swarms of firefighting drones could one day be deployed to tackle hugely destructive megafires that are becoming increasingly frequent in the Mediterranean region because of climate change, arson and poor landscape management.

Recommended for you

Researchers 3-D print electronics and cells directly on skin

April 25, 2018

In a groundbreaking new study, researchers at the University of Minnesota used a customized, low-cost 3D printer to print electronics on a real hand for the first time. The technology could be used by soldiers on the battlefield ...

Electrode shape improves neurostimulation for small targets

April 24, 2018

A cross-like shape helps the electrodes of implantable neurostimulation devices to deliver more charge to specific areas of the nervous system, possibly prolonging device life span, says research published in March in Scientific ...

China auto show highlights industry's electric ambitions

April 22, 2018

The biggest global auto show of the year showcases China's ambitions to become a leader in electric cars and the industry's multibillion-dollar scramble to roll out models that appeal to price-conscious but demanding Chinese ...

After Facebook scrutiny, is Google next?

April 21, 2018

Facebook has taken the lion's share of scrutiny from Congress and the media about data-handling practices that allow savvy marketers and political agents to target specific audiences, but it's far from alone. YouTube, Google ...

Robot designed for faster, safer uranium plant pipe cleanup

April 21, 2018

Ohio crews cleaning up a massive former Cold War-era uranium enrichment plant in Ohio plan this summer to deploy a high-tech helper: an autonomous, radiation-measuring robot that will roll through miles of large overhead ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.