Drones assess damage quickly and safely.

Position:Natural Disasters

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have become increasingly popular over the last half-dozen years or so among amateur aeronautical aficionados, engineers, and generally anyone fascinated with relatively inexpensive flying machines. They can be used for a number of applications, including civilian and military purposes. Monitoring and surveillance are two of their biggest uses.

Researchers at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, are utilizing similar technology to develop an operational prototype that will use innovative remote sensing approaches and cameras mounted on low-cost aircraft or unmanned drones to detect and map fine scale transportation infrastructure damage such as cracks, deformations, and shifts immediately following natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes.

"We've been working on basic technology for really fast and precise change detection by aligning images to each other before a disaster and immediately after an event to detect anything that changed," says Christopher Lippitt, assistant professor in Department of Geography and Environmental Studies.

Many natural disasters create dangerous situations that are time sensitive in nature. The first 24 hours oftentimes are critical in terms of damage assessment, search, and rescue. Short time-frame damage assessments, sometimes over large urban areas, can be difficult with the current conventional, ground observations and sensor networks.

"I like to call it telemedicine for infrastructure. We're talking about being able to map every piece of critical infrastructure in minutes to hours as...

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