Illustration of an unmanned drone hovering over a disaster site. Two companies just received a $900,000 grant to develop this technology. Illustration of an unmanned drone hovering over a disaster site. Two companies just received a $900,000 grant to develop this technology. Illustration of an unmanned drone hovering over a disaster site. Two companies just received a $900,000 grant to develop this technology. (Photo: PixOne/Shutterstock)

Can unmanned robotic drones save people from disasters?

New technology could be a huge help to first responders in times of crisis.

This looks like a job for ... driverless robotic rescue vehicles!

Two communications companies have won a grant from the nonprofit BIRD Foundaiton to cooperate on a new project that aims to add robots to the important work of the search and rescue industry. The funding will go toward the development of Project USRS, an initiative to fill in "capability gaps" that occur in an emergency.

These drones, which would not require a driver but could be controlled remotely, would be used for functions that can't always be fulfilled by a limited number of rescuers. They could save precious time during disasters, and very possibly save lives.

Israeli rescuers inspect damaged buildings in Alvaro Obregon, an area of Mexico City strongly affected by the quake. Humans can do heroic things in times of crisis, but they can't be everywhere. (Photo: Luis Manuel Perez/AFP/Getty Images)

“In an age where man-made and natural disasters have become global phenomena, it is important to integrate the various responders and their agencies, to minimize casualties and damage to infrastructure and private property," said Moshe Levinson of Israel-based Beeper Communications. "We are very glad that BIRD is investing in our development efforts to support first responders and provide the next generation of technology to these men and women."

Beeper and Maryland-based Mantaro Networks will join forces to ensure that human limitations don't inhibit responses to crises. That means these robotic vehicles will be able to fly over an emergency site to search for survivors on the ground, for example, and alert first responders to their whereabouts.

One of the main goals of the project is to develop ways for the unmanned robots and first responders to effectively communicate with each other. Mantaro Networks already has been working with Beeper, a broadband wireless company in Israel, and another firm called Safety Dynamics to develop a cellular bonder that can be enabled as a means of network communication in an emergency. The device, called a UGV, can send and receive data and can be monitored and operated from anywhere, Mantaro CEO Jeremy Parsons said.

cellular bonder This cellular bonder goes where no Wifi has gone before. (Photo: Beeper Communications)

“We have now proven an ability to use the bonder to send and receive rich, high bandwidth data to and from the UGV," Parsons said. "This not only provides real time operational views and information from the field to the command center, but also allows operation of the UGV from anywhere, further removing first responder personnel from harm's way during uncertain and challenging situations."

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