Posts tagged ‘Disaster Relief’
Why can’t a Robot be more like a Man?
Updates with photos and more details.
A robotics team from South Korea has taken the top prize in a $3.5 million challenge conducted by the Defense Department’s think-outside-the-box research unit.
Team KAIST of Daejon, Republic of Korea, and its robot DRC-Hubo, took first place in the two-day competition that ended Saturday (June 6), as well as the top prize of $2 million. Two American teams, from Florida and Pennsylvania took second and third place. More than 10,000 spectators turned out for the challenge at the former Los Angeles County Fairgrounds — now known as the Fairplex — in Pomona, California.
Sponsored by the Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the DARPA Robotics Challenge brought 23 teams from six countries together for a two-day competition of robot systems capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters. The idea, first promoted by DARPA in 2012, was a response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster the previous year following a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Small, tracked robots were able to enter damaged nuclear facilities to monitor radioactivity and provide video of areas too dangerous for humans to enter. But those robots lacked the ability to shut down equipment, get around debris or climb stairs to upper levels in the facility.
Your 4GWAR editor first wrote about the challenge for Unmanned Systems magazine in November 2012.
According to DARPA program manager and DRC organizer Gill Pratt, the challenge was designed to be extremely difficult. Participating teams had a very short time period to collaborate and develop the hardware, software, sensors, and human-machine control interfaces to enable their robots to complete a series of disaster response-related challenge tasks selected by DARPA. The tasks for each robot included: driving a vehicle alone for 100 meters; walking through rubble; tripping electrical circuit breakers; using a tool to cut a hole in a wall; turning valves and climbing stairs.
There were a dozen teams from the United States and 11 more from Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea and China (Hong Kong).
The winner, Team KAIST, is from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Their robot was called Hubo for humanoid robot. Coming in second, and winning a $1 million prize was Team IHMC Robotics of Pensacola, Florida. IHMC stands for the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition. Their robot was called Running Man. In third place, and earning a $500,000 prize was a team from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh — Team Tartan Rescue. Their robot was called CHIMP for CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform.
All the competitors had to drive Polaris Industries’ limited edition DARPA Polaris Ranger XP900 and GEM electric vehicles for the the robot driving part of the DRC Finals.
Click on the photos to enlarge the image. To see more photos of the competition, click here.
To see videos of the DRC, including when Team KAIST won, click here.
Army Purge Planned.
Nigeria’s army, long criticized for being ineffectual against the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, while killing far too many civilians, is set to scrutinize itself and purge ineffectual or cowardly soldiers, several new organizations report.
The army intends to purge soldiers it determines to be unfit to carry out their constitutional mandate, a spokesman told Voice of America. Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman said the army will enforce discipline and professionalism among its ranks as the fight against Boko Haram continues. “Most of them were charged with offenses that border on cowardice, aiding the enemy, as well as desertion in the face of the enemy,” said Usman.
He said the process is detailed and unbiased — not an ethnic nor religious purge — and it will ensure soldiers uphold the agreement they signed before joining the army.
At least 200 soldiers have been dismissed for cowardice and failure to fight against Boko Haram militants, the BBC reported. Several soldiers told the British network that up to 4,500 other rank and file soldiers could be dismissed.
Usman, the army spokesman, told VoA there are three layers of the investigation: a board of inquiry, followed by a military police investigation. Then the directorate of army legal services reviews all the cases and advises what action to take, said Usman — including summary trial.
About 1.5 million people have been displaced and hundreds more abducted since Boko Haram launched its violent uprising in 2009, according to the BBC. More than 15,500 people have been killed in the fighting. Boko Haram is still holding many women, girls and children captives including more than 200 school girls kidnapped from a school in Chibok a year ago.
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Boko Haram Roundup.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports that Boko Haram fighters killed at least 37 people and destroyed more than 400 buildings in an assault on the town of Gubio in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state.
The latest attack — which a military source said involved about 50 Boko Haram members storming Gubio — lasted for around five hours on Saturday afternoon (May 23). Reuters news agency reported via Al Jazeera. Details of such attacks often take a number of days to make their way from affected areas due to poor telecommunications in the remote northeastern region of Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and most populous nation.
The buildings burned by the fighters included eight mosques, four schools and a local government building.
Boko Haram, which captured large swathes of Northeast Nigeria in the past two years, has been driven out of nearly all the territory it captured by a series of offensives waged by Nigeria’s armed forces backed by troops from the neighboring states of Chad, Niger and Cameroon in the past few months.
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In Niger, authorities have detained and charged 643 people since February for their links to Boko Haram, according to Niger Security Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou.
Niger has deployed 3,000 soldiers to a joint regional force formed with Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria to quash the Boko Haram insurgency, Al Jazeera reports.
Several Boko Haram networks and sleeper cells have been dismantled in Niger’s southern Diffa region, which is on the border with Nigeria, since a state of emergency was declared there in February and troops deployed, Massaoudou told Niger’s parliament. “If this measure [detaining suspects] had not been taken, we could have had an uprising in the very interior of Diffa,” the minister told parliament Tuesday (May 26).
Those arrested and detained have been charged with acts of terrorism and criminal conspiracy, he said. Diffa came under heavy attack in February when Boko Haram, which wants to establish an emirate in northern Nigeria, carried out attacks in neighboring countries.
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The United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict has condemned Boko Haram for “waging war on women” by repeatedly raping their female captives and treating them as vessels for producing children for fighters.
“In this context, sexual violence is not merely incidental, but integral, to their strategy of domination and self-perpetuation,” Zainab Hawa Bangura said in a statement issued Wednesday (May 27).
“In the stories of those recently released from Boko Haram captivity, I hear poignant echoes of the words of the women and girls I met last month in the Middle East, who had been freed from sexual slavery by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant),” she said. “In both cases, they describe being treated as chattels to be ‘owned’ and traded, and as vessels for producing children for fighters.”
Her statement was issued a little over a year after the extremist group Boko Haram abducted 276 teenage girls in Chibok, Borno State, in Nigeria. Many of them remain in captivity, along with hundreds of others who have been abducted both before and since.
Earlier this month, United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-moon condemned what he called Boko Haram’s “continuing indiscriminate and horrific attacks” against the civilian populations of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, according to the United Nations.
In a statement released May 22, a UN spokesperson said Ban Ki-Moon is appalled by the continued abductions and use of children as so-called “human bombs,” as well as by testimony that many of the girls and women held by Boko Haram are repeatedly raped while in captivity and compelled to marry their captors as part of the group’s ongoing campaign of forced imprisonment and sexual violence.
“The perpetrators of these despicable acts must be brought to justice,” the Secretary-General declared.
Human Need, Human Support.
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jessica Gomez-Hickman holds a young earthquake victim before loading her into an ambulance at a medical triage area at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, Nepal. U.S. Joint Task Force 505, along with other multinational forces and humanitarian relief organizations, is providing aid after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal April 25. U.S. Pacific Command sent JTF 505, at Nepal’s request, to provide unique assistance capabilities — including helicopter search and rescue and mobile emergency medical facilities. (Click on the photo to enlarge the image).
A Marine Corps UH-1Y “Huey“ helicopter from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 went missing May 12 near Charikot, Nepal, while conducting humanitarian assistance. Six Marines and two Nepalese service members were aboard the aircraft, which crashed in the rugged terrain. Wreckage was spotted by Nepalese troops Friday and it is not believed there are any survivors of the accident, according to the Associated Press.
U.S. Marines, airmen, soldiers and sailors have been providing search and rescue, logistical, medical, communications and transportation support to the shattered area along with U.S. AID and State department workers and civilian urban search and rescue teams from California and Virginia. For more details on this humanitarian relief effort, click here.
Goin’ to the Show.
Updates with new photo, new information on FAA press conferences and include link to FAA proposed rules. Click on photo to enlarge.
ATLANTA — It’s early May, which to many people means hockey and NBA playoffs, or spring plants sales. But it also means a gathering of those who love machines that can free humans from having to do jobs that are dirty, dull and dangerous.
The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International — the folks who design, build, test, buy, sell and operate robots, drones and androids.
About 8,000 people from 55 countries are expected to attend AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems 2015 conference and expo here in Georgia through Thursday (May 7).
There will be indoor demonstrations of small unmanned aircraft and ground vehicles. Devices showing off their capabilities are slated to include Indago, Lockheed Martin’s five-pound multi-use quad copter and Ontario Drive & Gear’s ARGO J5 extreme terrain-capable unmanned ground vehicle.
Panel discussions include topics like what international opportunities are there for American unmanned aircraft systems and what kinds of payloads the Pentagon is exploring for unmanned aircraft. Another discussion will address the ethical use of drones and still another will explore emerging commercial markets for unmanned aircraft in the oil and gas industry.
But a hot topic likely to run through the whole week is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed rules for small commercial unmanned aircraft (55 pounds and under).
The FAA’s proposed rules would speed up, somewhat, the glacial pace for getting FAA permission to fly unmanned air systems (UAS) for commercial purposes, such as monitoring crops and livestock or filming movies, TV shows and commercials. But the rule still places restraints on operators’ ability to fly their drones beyond their line of sight — or to fly at night. Farm interests in particular, pushed back on this policy, saying the line of sight rule would make it much harder for a lone farmer to check a large spread economically without multiple drones or assistance.
The FAA hasn’t said what it is going to do next, but they are holding a double press briefing on Wednesday (May 6) presided over by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
DISASTER RELIEF: U.S. Air Force, Army Special Forces, USAID and Canadian Drone Maker Aid in Nepal Earthquake Relief
Search and Rescue.
The U.S. Air Force has sent two large military cargo/transport planes, carrying tons of relief supplies and federal and state disaster response experts, to Nepal to assist in relief and recovery efforts following a massive earthquake that killed thousands and injured thousands more and left still more without food, water or shelter. Two Army Green Beret A-Teams, who were training in the mountainous country when the earthquake hit, are aiding in relief efforts.
The magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the country, high in the Himalayas, Saturday (April 25) killing more than 4,000 in the capital, Kathmandu, and surrounding areas. At least 7,000 people were reported injured and untold thousands more are homeless. Click here to see map of the devastation.
On Sunday (April 26) an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III left Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, bound for Nepal’s Tribhuvan International Airport, according to a Pentagon spokesman. “The aircraft is transporting nearly 70 personnel, including a USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team, the Fairfax County (Virginia) Urban Search and Rescue team and several journalists, along with 45 square tons of cargo,” said the spokesman, Army Colonel Steve Warren.
A second C-17 carrying the Los Angeles County (California) Urban Search and Rescue team left a day later from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, flew to March Air Reserve Base, California, to pick up the team and is expected to land in Nepal on Wednesday (April 29), Air Force Times reported.
Twenty-six members of two Army Special Forces teams, who were training in Nepal at the time of the earthquake, are helping Nepal’s military find and help survivors of the devastating earthquake, according to Military Times. One team was in country for high altitude training, so it is helping find survivors in popular trekking trails, including Mount Everest’s base camp.
The United States is also providing an initial $10 million in emergency assistance for relief organizations in Nepal “to further address urgent humanitarian needs,” according to the White House.
The Fairfax, Virginia team — which includes firefighters, paramedics, physicians, canine handlers, communications experts and engineering and construction specialists — have established their Base of Operations in a Baseball Field in Nepal. The Los Angeles County Search and Rescue team will be based with them once they arrive in-country, according to the Fairfax team’s webpage.
Meanwhile, Canadian unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) manufacturer, Aeryon Labs — along with partners GlobalMedic and Monadrone — is deploying three of its small drones to Nepal to aid disaster relief efforts, according to AUVSI News. The drones being sent to Nepal are outfitted with thermal cameras to help locate survivors, and the Aeryon HDZoom30 camera, which has an extended zoom, to look at targets from over 1,000 feet away.
Small unmanned aircraft provide “the unmatched capability to get onsite and into the air immediately to start determining how and where to provide support to the people.” said Rahul Singh, executive director of GlobalMedic.
Click here to see aerial footage from NBC — shot by a drone — of the devastation in Kathmandu, and the Fairfax Urban Search and Rescue team’s travels to Nepal.
A Matter of Fairness.
If Congress fails to reach an agreement by midnight tonight (Friday, March 27), funding for the Department of Homeland Security will cease.
Pundits, politicians and analysts are quick to point out that the vast majority of DHS employees have been deemed “essential” to national security so the department will not shut down.
There will still be U.S. Border Patrol agents halting people, drugs and weapons smuggling in the Southwest and elsewhere.
There will still be Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel screening passengers and their baggage at more than 400 U.S. airports.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers will continue checking people and cargo coming into the United States on trucks, planes and ships – as well as in cars and on foot at border crossings.
The U.S. Coast Guard will continue its myriad tasks ranging from rescuing people at sea to maintaining security at the nation’s ports and harbors to enforcing maritime safety and environmental laws.
The Secret Service will continuing guarding the president and other top officials.
But the 85 percent of the department’s approximately 240,000 workers who required to report for duty if the funding stops will not be paid until Congress passes a DHS appropriations bill.
“What message does this send … that we don’t think enough of you to pay you?” an alarmed Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire asked in a CNN interview today (February 27) as both the Senate and House of Representatives tried to figure a way out of the political tangle touched off by Republicans’ objection to President Obama’s executive orders on immigration.
While some say nothing bad will happen if non-essential DHS workers are furloughed – and others argue something terrible could happen, it is obvious that there are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who see political gain in a partial shutdown of DHS: either to make the point that the agency’s budget is bloated or to convince voters the other side don’t care about protecting the nation from terrorism in a time of mounting threats.
Following his presentation at a Border Management industry conference earlier this week, we asked Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher what a partial DHS shutdown would mean for his agency’s mission.
“It impacts our operations, no doubt,” he said. But Fisher was confidant his people could still secure the border. “It’s unfortunate if it comes to that, that they will be working without pay, but I will tell you – in terms of their commitment to border security – on that we’ll not falter.”
At the same conference (sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement) TSA Chief of Staff Thomas McDaniels Jr. said the approximately 45,000 airport screeners exempt from being furloughed are required to report for work in the event of a funding halt. He noted the average starting salary for Transportation Security Officers, is $25,000 a year. “So we’re asking our frontline homeland security officials who are not making the most money to go without paychecks,” he said. While they are guaranteed retroactive pay once Congress can come to agreement on a funding bill, McDaniels added, “I think that’s a lot to ask of people who may be living paycheck to paycheck.” The last government shutdown to halt TSA paychecks lasted 17 days, he said, but there was no “significant attrition” after things returned to normal.
Wolf Tombe, CBP’s chief technology officer, told conference attendees that the country is confronting new threats from cyber-attacks and lone wolf terrorists, to disease outbreaks like Ebola. “The threat is evolving. We need to evolve with it, to stay ahead of it,” he said, outlining technologies his office is exploring from wearable sensors and cameras to hand launched surveillance drones to thermometers that can take an arriving air passenger’s temperature from a safe distance of 10 feet.
But if Congress fails to reach a compromise on DHS funding “all this gets shut down,” Tombe told 4GWAR “because I’m not considered essential. So my organization gets furloughed.”
There’s a cautionary saying from the early days of aviation that “only angels have wings.” But here we have a photo of U.S. Air Force special tactics airmen demonstrating their skill with a HALO — high altitude, low opening parachute jump. The object of such a jump is to free fall from a high altitude then open the chute at a low altitude and descend without being detected from the ground.
These airmen are from the 24th Special Operations Wing, part of U.S. Special Operations Command and one of three Air Force wings dedicated to demanding and dangerous jobs like combat controllers, pararescuemen and special operations weather officers.
Combat controllers are special air traffic controllers operating from the ground in combat zones.They provide expert air support coordination and communications capabilities and often accompany Army Special Forces, Army Rangers and Navy SEALS when they deploy into hostile areas.They call in air strikes and control air traffic on and above landing strips and jump zones in hostile or austere environments. They were among the first U.S. troops on the ground during emergency relief efforts after the 2010 Haitian earthquake. Pararescuemen, known as PJs, parachute over land or water to render medical assistance and rescue downed pilots and other personnel in combat or natural disaster situations. They are also lowered to ground or water level on a cable to rescue people. Among their many tasks, special operations weather officers and airmen deploy into combat and non-permissive environments (the ‘bad guys’ or ‘bad conditions’ on the ground don’t want you there) to collect and interpret meteorological data and provide ground force commanders with accurate intelligence during a special operations mission.
The HALO jump, from MC-130H Talon II special operations aircraft over Hurlburt Field, Florida, is designed to help participants maintain their qualification for special tactics airmen, trained to jump into hostile or austere environments not accessible to aircraft.
To see a photo slideshow of the pre-jump preparations and the jump itself, click here. As ever, to enlarge the image just click on the photo.