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UTA Researchers Use Drones to Help Harvey Cleanup Efforts

For all the definitive opinions people seem to have on unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones, researchers at UT-Arlington say we’ve really only begun to tap into their potential.

It’s why the university has a UAV program at its Research Institute, where researchers work to develop new drone technologies and examine beneficial and ethical ways to use them.

One of their latest projects includes figuring out how the devices can help cities better respond to natural disasters.

“The drone has a really big advantage in that situation,” said Cody Lundberg, a research engineer at UTA and an FAA certified drone pilot.

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After securing a $34,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Lundberg and fellow researcher Surya Congress recently took one of their drones to Beaumont, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Harvey.

Working directly with the city’s emergency management team, they flew it, using it to map out and take specialized pictures of storm debris across the community.

“We just did it again and again and again,” said Lundberg. “It’s such a huge area that’s been damaged down there.”

Taking the data collected by the drone, they built 3D images of each debris pile they photographed. Using that image, they’re able to quickly calculate exactly how much debris was still on the ground — valuable information that could save Beaumont precious time and money.

“The city will have tools that they can use to estimate the debris, so they can allocate the resources — how much needs to be spent on the removal of the debris,” said Dr. Anand Puppala, a professor of civil engineering at UTA who helped oversee the project.

Puppala says oftentimes, cities dealing with crises will underestimate or overestimate the amount of resources needed, costing them significant amounts of money.

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The team hopes their research will help any city faced with disaster better manage cleanup efforts.        

“Looking at the loss [in Beaumont], it was very heartbreaking,” said Congress. “But apart from that, we were able to do something good for society. So it’s pretty encouraging for us.”

The team was recently invited to present their work at the Commercial UAV Expo of the Americas in Las Vegas.

Published 35 minutes ago

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