UAV Advocates Take Technologies to Congress

Officials from academia, government and the private sector who develop and promote unmanned vehicle systems converged on Capitol Hill.
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by J.J. Smith

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Robin Murphy of Texas A&M University’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering with a submersible unmanned vehicle system at the Unmanned Systems Caucus Technology & Science Fair on Capitol Hill. Photo by J.J. Smith

Officials from academia, government and the private sector who develop and promote unmanned vehicle systems (UVS) converged on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 21 to provide members of Congress with insight on the latest UVS technologies and how they are being used.

The event was the Unmanned Systems Caucus Technology & Science Fair held at the Rayburn House Office Building and sponsored by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

Among those in academia working with UVS is Robin Murphy of Texas A&M University’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering, Center for Robot-Assisted Search & Rescue, who participate in search operations in Japan’s coastal waters following the tsunami that devastated the country on March 11.

The tsunami destroyed the costal infrastructure in that part of Japan including bridges, pipelines, ports, and its fishing and shipping industries, she said. “There weren’t enough manual divers in the world to cover the 400 miles of devastation,” she added. Therefore, submersible remote operated vehicles, such as SeaBotix’s SARbot, were transported to the areas where they were needed and the performance of those systems showed “the technology is mature and useful enough to help in a disaster,” she said.

While the Center for Robot-Assisted Search & Rescue is focused on land, sea and air remote controlled vehicles, and had all three on display at the fair, the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) System, a Department of Justice funded organization dedicated to assisting state, local, tribal and federal law enforcement, corrections and other criminal justice agencies in addressing their technology needs and challenges, is focused on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

NLECTA’s low-cost aviation technology program seeks to assist state and local law enforcement with the, where the organization is exploring the value of light-support aircraft, and unmanned aircraft as an alternative to the more traditional aircraft used by law enforcement, said Darian Williams the NLECTC’s project manager.

There is about 19,000-law enforcement agencies in the United States, but only about 300 of those have aviation units, Williams said. Not every law enforcement agency can afford several million dollars for a helicopter, as well as the $1,500 per hour to operate it, he added, “So we’re looking at lower cost aviation assets that they might be interested in,” he said, which is why NLECTA has been reviewing unmanned systems. “There’s always a place for an aviation unit within a law enforcement agency,” and with the lower costs of the robotic units, agencies that never considered an aerial unit before can now acquire them, he said.

In addition to NLECTA, NASA was at the fair to show what the agency is doing with UAS, said Randal Albertson, NASA Airborne Science Program’s deputy director, based at the Dryden Flight Research Center in California. NASA uses UAS for research in two areas, he said. There are the national airspace program, and its earth systems science research, such as studying hurricanes, wildfires, and other things of that nature, he said. But while NASA is primarily focused on the research end, the agency also will support Department of Defense efforts such as the demonstration of technology, he said.

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