Eye in the Sky - Unpiloted aircraft in a future near you - Alejandro Ramirez-Serrano
May 3, 2012
During search and rescue missions, every minute counts. Alejandro Ramirez-Serrano is developing unmanned vehicles, also known as "mobile robotics", to help emergency response teams enter disaster zones, navigate debris and locate survivors quickly and safely.
Our field of research is what we call unmanned vehicles. Some people call it mobile robotics. We cover the aspects of control, navigation, sensing, path planning - all the things that are involved in how to make a vehicle move that traditionally humans do normally every day in their lives. That's what we do. We just want to have the vehicle reason, make decisions, and execute on mission.
For example, after an earthquake, let's assume that a building collapsed. Usually it takes us eight hours or so for rescue people and dogs, even animals, to go there and search for victims. So a robot, if it's fully autonomously, and it can actually make decisions in an environment that people say no, we don't even know how it's going to look like, he can start searching for victims while officers and inspection people make sure that the building is good for the search and rescue personnel to go in. We might know where they are, where their problem is, and what can we do to help them.
This vehicle, there's pretty much on the - I would not say everything under the sun, but there's sensing, there's diverse sensors, electronic sensors, cameras, infrared, gas sniffers, there's gyroscopes. There's a whole range of sensors that are typically used in many other applications, but we use them here to be able to control the aircraft, and also for the aircraft or the vehicle to monitor itself so that it can make more decisions.
This vehicle is unique because, in theory, it can do things that no other vehicle can do. And one of the things that it can do, it's hover pitch. So basically, we can have the vehicle pitch at different angles and maintain it in that attitude for as long as we want. For example, a helicopter can hover, but it cannot really pitch. By having it pitch, we can actually have this vehicle perform manoeuvres that no other aircraft can do. And by doing that, we can actually land and take off from high slopes, for example up to 40 degrees, so where a traditional helicopter would not be able to land.
NSERC has been a tremendous help in these efforts, especially because it allows us to actually bring students, train them, and have the multidisciplinary team that otherwise it would not be possible.
This research, even though it's a challenge, at least for me it's also fun. You're able to see your work actually help people.