Cooperative use of unmanned sea surface and micro aerial vehicles at Hurricane Wilma



On Oct. 24, 2005, Hurricane Wilma, a category 5 storm, made landfall at Cape Romano, Florida. Three days later, the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue at the University of South Florida deployed an iSENYS helicopter and a prototype unmanned water surface vehicle, AEOS-1, to survey damage in parts of Marco Island, 14 km from landfall. The effort was the first known use of unmanned sea surface vehicles (USVs) for emergency response and established their suitability for the recovery phase of disaster management by detecting damage to seawalls and piers, locating submerged debris (moorings and handrails), and determining safe lanes for sea navigation. It provides a preliminary domain theory of postdisaster port and littoral inspection with unmanned vehicles for use by the human–robot interaction community. It was also the first known demonstration of the strongly heterogeneous USV–micro aerial vehicle (MAV) team for any domain. The effort identified cooperative UAV–USV strategies and open issues for autonomous operations near structures. The effort showed that the MAV provided a much-needed external view for situation awareness and provided spotting for areas to be inspected. Concepts of operations for USV damage inspection and USV–MAV cooperation emerged, including a formula for computing the human–robot ratio: Nh = (2 × Nv) + 1, where Nh is the number of humans and Nv is the number of vehicles. The outstanding research issues span three areas: challenges for USVs operating near littoral structures, general issues for USV–MAV cooperation, and new applications. It is expected that the lessons learned will be transferrable to defense and homeland safety and security applications, such as port security, and other phases of emergency response, including rescue. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.