NI and partners to present SERS at SmartAmerica

A team composed of National Instruments and eight other organizations from academia and industry is designing a Smart Emergency Response System (SERS) to empower first responders and other emergency personnel with information needed to locate and assist victims in disaster situations. The team was formed in response to the SmartAmerica Challenge, a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow project designed to use cyberphysical systems for meaningful societal impact.

The team demonstrated its concept May 13 at the University of Washington, according to Andy Chang of National Instruments, in a recent phone conversation. The team will officially unveil the project at the SmartAmerica Challenge Expo event on June 11 in Washington, D.C.

“You can imagine disaster striking at any time—tornados, earthquakes, mudslides,” Chang said. “We wanted to leverage advanced robotics, UAVs, and even dogs with special training and sensors to identify people trapped and to turn off gas valves and save lives.”

Chang said the project began when a call to submit proposals led to a kickoff meeting last November. The goal was to gather talented people with forward-looking technology that could be leveraged to solve big problems. The meeting was something like “speed dating,” Chang said. “We talked about our technology, went around room, and then identified groups with interests in solving similar problems.”

The speed dating resulted in the teaming up of National Instruments along with BluHaptics, Boeing, MathWorks, MIT Media Lab, North Carolina State University, University of North Texas, University of Washington, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, all of which were interested in a focus on smart emergency response systems. The question the organizations faced, said Chang, was, “What can we do with current technology to save jobs and lives?” And in addition, what could be integrated over a six-month period.

Chang continued, “May 13 at the University of Washington was an opportunity for us to put together integrated test bed and demonstrate our technology together. We had worked in sub-teams previously. We spent two days cohesively integrating the entire system and demonstrating it for the State of Washington office of NIST. That was a milestone.”

The project involves the use of NI LabVIEW and Compact RIO hardware to implement a semiautonomous robot that provides haptic feedback to an operator, who could use the robot to shut of a gas valve remotely. Chang spoke with a public safety official during the May demonstration who expressed interest in working with NI and its partners in adapting the concept more closely to real-world needs. “This is only the beginning forcing function motivating us to work together, and we want to continue collaborations to develop viable solutions,” Chang said.

In addition to solving technical challenges, Chang said, a goal of the challenge is to inform policy makers to have the right legislation in place to encourage continued investment in cyberphysical systems—and to make sure that laws do not slow down technology development.

“We want to make the public American public aware of state-of-the-art technology and inspire the future scientists as well as other companies,” he said.

“The SERS project is focused on using cyber-physical systems to improve response to and recovery from emergencies and disasters, in part by sharing data and coordinating action in real-time via wireless networks,” said Project Leader Justyna Zander, representing MathWorks, in a press release. “Key features of our approach comprise a common and shared responsibility among all stakeholders, including individuals, first responders, communities, innovators, and governments. As a team, we respond to the cross-domain issues and provide solutions that we would not have achieved individually.”

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