Book Chapter: Unmanned systems – evolution and emerging role in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief
EARTH OBSERVATION & NAVIGATION. AW AND TECHNOLOGY, 2018/3
(eds.) M. JANKOWSKA, M. PAWEŁCZYK, S. AUGUSTYN & M. KULAWIAK
Chapter 7, Part IV: UAVs – Functions, opportunities, information security and legal framework
Publisher Wydawnictwo Ius Publicum, 00-508 Warszawa
The ever-growing types of Unmanned Systems include unmanned aircraft, ground robots, underwater explorers, satellites, and other unconventional structures. However, it excludes ballistic or semi-ballistic vehicles, artillery, and cruise missiles. The Military has been at the forefront of the design, development and deployment of unmanned systems. The rapid developments in electronics, extra strong and ultralight materials, communication technologies, sensors, computers and software has led to extraordinary progress in unmanned vehicles and their utilisation in the civilian arena. The aim of this chapter is to provide a perspective into the evolution of various types of unmanned vehicles and their transition from the military arena to the civil space especially as far as search, rescue, and disaster relief efforts are concerned.
Evolution of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), formerly called “drones”, can be classified as pilotless target aircraft (PTAs), reconnaissance vehicles, or weapon delivery systems. According to the US Department of Defence an unmanned aircraft is an aircraft that does not carry a human operator and is capable of flight with or without human remote control. An unmanned system is a machine or device that is equipped with necessary data processing units, sensors, automatic control, and communications systems and is capable of performing missions autonomously without human intervention. The UAVs have shorter life spans than manned aircraft and can suffer attrition, which implies that they will survive for a relatively small number of sorties until failures, accidents, or hostile action destroy them. The loss rate for aircraft and UAVs is an important concept that influences the cost-effectiveness of UAVs and manned vehicles.
The origins of UAVs can be traced to World War I “Kettering Bug,” which was an unsuccessful attempt to build a ground-launched cruise bomb with limited, onboard, pre-set guidance. The advent of reliable radio communications during the interwar years led the US Army to produce several target drone aircraft, the technological explosion accompanying World War II (WW II) did little to enhance American UAV efforts. The military experimented unsuccessfully with remotely controlled heavy bombers. Germany during WW II successfully employed the V1 (a pilotless jet powered pre-programmed explosive-laden aircraft) and the V2 missiles against England with devastating results.
Post WW II in USA, the Model 147 and Q-2C, the new UAV systems were the forerunner to the advanced AQM-34 “Firebee”. “Over the years other types of unmanned aircraft have been cheaper and some have been produced in greater numbers, but none has equalled the versatility and adaptability of the basic ‘Firebee’ design”. Immediately after these systems were built, they were flying reconnaissance missions over China during the 1960s. Some were shot down and the Chinese reverse engineered them to develop the first Chinese UAV systems.
Earliest mention of a UAV in the Naval context is found in 1917 when the US Navy commissioned the design of an “aerial torpedo” for use against German U-boats. A contract was awarded to the Curtiss Aeroplane Company, and the aeroplane was named the Speed-Scout. The Curtiss Speed-Scout was designed to be launched from Naval ships carrying a 1,000-lb. payload and to be stabilized by an autopilot. The Speed-Scout suffered several failures before it achieved its first successful flight on 6 March 1918, marking the first flight of a UAV. The Curtiss T-2G “assault drone” successfully launched a torpedo attack against a manoeuvring target. On 15 April 1923, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) made known its early work in the development of the first UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) for the Navy. A specially equipped F5L seaplane, was controlled by radio signals up to a range of 10 miles from the transmitter. The NRL also reported that radio control of take-off and landing of aircraft was possible.
The Gyrodyne model QH-50D was a remotely controlled UAV which was built and delivered to the US Navy as the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH) for the DASH weapon system. Over 377 QH-50D were purchased by the US Navy till October 1969. It is the only U.S. Navy Fleet deployed Vertical Take-off or landing, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Many of the mission proposals being requested for today’s UAVs were successfully fulfilled by the QH-50D over 30 years ago. From vertical replenishment (VERTREP) missions carrying 1000 lb crates, to Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (ARPA) armed search and area reconnaissance programs such as Nite Panther and Nite Gazelle, the QH-50D carried every form of missile, grenade, and bomb to tactical nuclear weapons at Nellis Air Force Base. The QH-50 remains the world’s only originally designed aircraft specifically built to operate as a heavy payload (over 1000 lbs) VTOL-UAV from small ship decks.
The decade of the 2000s saw the development of larger, heavier and more capable systems. These appeared in the form of the Predator B model, powered by a turbo-propeller engine, and the higher-altitude Global Hawk UAV powered by a turbofan engine. This decade also witnessed a much higher use of UAVs in military roles. It also led to modification of medium and long-range UAVs to carry armament, for example, the ‘Reaper’. In the current decade, UAVs have witnessed startling improvements in efficiency, electronics, fusing of imaging sensors (in the optical, IR & radar frequencies), and reduction in bandwidth requirements.
Evolution of Underwater Unmanned Vehicles (UUVs)
A UUV generally is a machine that uses a propulsion system to transit through the water. It can manoeuvre in three dimensions (azimuth, plane and depth), and control its speed by the use of sophisticated computerised systems onboard the vehicle itself. The UUV can be pre-programmed to adhere to course, speed and depths as desired by the operator at a remote location and carry out specific tasks utilising a bank of sensors on the UUV. The data collection can be both time and space-based and is referenced with respect to coordinates of the place of operation. The UUVs can operate under most environmental conditions and because of this they are used for an accurate bathymetric survey by survey companies and also for seafloor mapping by oil and gas industry prior to commencing construction of subsea structures. The Navies use them for detecting enemy submarines, mines, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and area monitoring purposes etc. The UUVs carry out their routine tasks unattended, and report at designed intervals about its technical wellbeing and also about the details of the task undertaken by means of communicating through satellite communication, acoustic, or RF modes. The UUV is recoverable at the end of its mission and is available for reuse after maintenance. Generally, a UUV can operate from 8hrs to 50hrs at a speed between 0.5m/s to 2.5m/s. The economic speed is around 1.5m/s at which it achieves its maximum range. The depth of operation varies between 1000 m to 6000 m. The ability of UUV to operate under adverse sea conditions also forms a vital factor in its design. Though UUVs operate at depths where surface wind and waves have minimal effect, the launch and recovery of the UUVs pose serious limitations. Some of the UUVs have their own launch and retrieval systems.
The evolution of UUVs can probably be traced to the first Whitehead Torpedo developed and demonstrated in 1866 in Austria. The compressed air driven Whitehead torpedo, fitted with an explosive charge, covered a distance of about 700 m at a speed of 3m/s. In the late 1950s, at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory, a project was undertaken to develop a vehicle which could undertake precise spatial measurement of oceanographic data. This resulted in the development of the first autonomous underwater vehicle in the early 1960’s called The Self Propelled Underwater Research Vehicle 1 (SPURV 1). This UUV weighed around 480 Kg, dived up to 3 km, even at 50-degree angles, and could operate up to 5.5 hr. at 2.2 m/s. The losses of nuclear submarines, USS Thresher, USS Scorpion and the 1966 B52 Palomares crash (which resulted in the loss of an H Bomb in deep sea) led to the development of the Advanced Unmanned Search System (AUSS) in 1973, at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR). Institut Français de Recherche pour l’ Exploitation de la Mer (IFREMER), the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea, designed and developed Epulard.
In the last decade, UUVs have generated a great deal of interest in the scientific community, defence agencies as well as commercial enterprises. HUGIN 3000 manufactured by Kongsberg Simrad, Norway displacing 1400 kg, can operate up to 3 Km depth at a speed of 4 kt for 40 hrs. It is available for charter from C&C Technologies of Lafayette, Louisiana. As per Nezavisimaya Gazeta, USSR has had a leading position in the design and development of unmanned submersibles. In the early 1970s, experimental program-controlled submersible Skat with hydroacoustic navigation was designed for research purposes on the continental shelf. Based upon this Skat-Geo was operationalized in 1976 at the geodesic range in the White Sea. Subsequently, the design and development of robot system Lortodromia (L-2), autonomous submersibles Tiflonus and MT-88 followed by submersibles CR-01 and CR-02 took place. Explorer (Tan Suo Zhe) is the first Chinese AUV which was operationalized in 1994, it is distinct from the US and Canadian AUVs with the same name. It was developed under program 863-512.
Evolution of Marine Unmanned Surface Vehicles
Anti-terrorism missions and littoral warfare focus of the US Navy in the 1990s spurred the development of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) for marine use. The current USVs are, 2m to 15 m long, with a displacement of 1.5t to 10t and can operate up to 35 kt in calm waters. Second Gulf war successes have further fueled the developmental activities of USVs ranging from small torpedo size craft for data gathering to large unmanned ships for other missions. The USVs need improvements in over the horizon communications, autonomy, launch and recovery and increased survivability. The maritime regulations and protocols are also not in place in respect of these vehicle’s operations and interaction with other seafarers.
Target drone boats for missile practice and gunnery training have been used by the US Navy since the 1960s. The US Navy operates a number of target drones like QST 35/35A SEPTAR targets, Mobile Ship Target (MST) and the High-Speed Maneuverable Seaborne Target (HSMST). During the Vietnam War in 1965, Minesweeping Drone (MSD) and a USV for unmanned munitions deployment were used. Many countries use USVs for minesweeping operations, they include, the UK’s RIM drones, Japan’s SAM ACV drones, Sweden’s SAM II ACV drones, Germany’s Troika Groups and Denmark’s STANFLEX etc. The US Navy has developed the Remote Mine-hunting System (RMS), an air-breathing submersible that tows mine-hunting sensors and is deployed and operated organically from warships.USVs for reconnaissance and surveillance missions engaged the attention of the US Navy in the 1990s. This led to the development of the Autonomous Search and Hydrographic Vehicle (ASH), and the Roboski a jet-ski type target for ship self-defence training.
Evolution of Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs)
Unmanned Ground Vehicles or Systems (UGVs or UGS) add another dimension to the employment of ground-based remote or pre-programmed systems for multiple uses from defusing explosives to logistics. A UGV is envisaged as a military robot used to augment capabilities of an infantry unit. The UGV is capable of operating outdoors and over a wide variety of terrain, functions in the place of humans to carry out battlefield tasks normally associated with soldiers in the field. The UGV is seen as a counterpart of the UAV operating on the ground. The Soviet Union had developed a remotely controlled tank called ‘teletank,’ which could be controlled by radio signals from as far away as a km. These were employed in buddy pair with one acting as a command tank. The Germans also developed the Goliath which was tracked and controlled by wire to be blown up at the target. In the post-Cold War era, the US took the lead in developing UGVs and impetus was given in 1990 when in response to concerns expressed by the US Congress, US Department of Defence (DoD) consolidated a number of advanced development projects related to ground vehicle robotics under the Joint Robotics Program (JRP). The first-generation UGVs includes Remote Ordnance Neutralization System (RONS), Standardized Robotic System (SRS), Robotic Combat Support System (RCSS) and All-purpose Robotic Transport System (ARTS) . The US is likely to maintain the lead in the development of UGVs, with the stated vision of the Robotics System Joint Project Office being to develop, “An integrated family of robotic systems by 2020 that multiplies force effectiveness, improves Warfighter survivability and assures battlefield dominance” .
Growing Role of Unmanned Vehicles in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief
Urgency is an integral part of Disaster relief operations. Each passing moment reduces the chances of saving a human life or alleviating the pain of the injured. An overview of the disaster area is required for preliminary assessment, access and provisioning of relief. The unmanned vehicles can be almost immediately deployed over the disaster area.
UAVs. The airframe technologies and video data real-time communications permit the UAVs to carry out their task in hazardous operating conditions like forest and city fires, earthquakes, contamination zones, cyclones, torrential rains, floods, tsunami, landslides, heavy snowfall etc. The moment a disaster or a serious incident involving a population is observed and reported through accessible media, it gives rise to humongous information requirements. These can be subdivided in many ways. The simplest way is to tackle the information requirement is using the standard 5Ws and H (what, where, when, who, why, and how) in a calibrated manner. The UAVs fulfil the immediate requirement of ‘what and where’ in an expeditious and efficient manner as compared to manned aerial surveys/ satellite pictures and manual surveys. It is feasible for the simple reason that the UAVs can be safely operated very quickly in an adverse environment and hazardous terrain. They provide real-time streaming videos and pictures with highly capable cameras and infra-red sensors. This, in turn, helps in a quick assessment of the questions ‘what, where and who’. For instance, in April 2015 after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal, Etobicoke, which manages a fleet of UAVs for international disaster relief missions, had carried out aerial mapping of crisis-affected areas, identifying flooded areas, obstructed roads, population movements, and damaged infrastructure. This had helped the local administration in carrying out urgent relief measures. The appearance of UAV on the horizon is also very comforting to the accident victims as well as the local responders as they feel reassured that relief is on the way. The UAVs also provide the current & prevailing situation and generate maps for provisioning of quick relief to the area. They also provide the best routes of approach to the area for delivery of relief material. For example, the emergency had to be declared in Ecuador after a magnitude-7.8 earthquake on 16 April 2016. It caused very severe damage in the provinces of Manabí and Esmeraldas. The Ecuadorian Army and AeroVison carried out UAV missions to assess the extent of damage in cities and produce maps to enable provisioning relief and shelters. The government readily accepted and adopted the use of UAVs since it was much quicker and provided higher quality data than ground-based visual assessments. However, since the UAVs have not yet become integrated with the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief effort at all levels, success is limited at times like in the case of Vanuatu which was gripped by Cyclone Pam on 13 March 2015. The cyclone carried out large scale destruction in its wake. Under the World Bank’s UAVs for Resilience programme, The Humanitarian UAV Network carried out aerial surveys. The success was limited due to gaps in communications, logistics, data requirements and standard formats. However, the effort turned out to be a good learning process.
The UAV effort is relatively cheaper than manned aerial and ground surveys and can be carried out relentlessly over extended periods by changing the ground teams and UAVs. The importance of saving lives quickly becomes paramount in cases of natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, fires, cyclones etc where the survivors have to be quickly located and efforts made to save their lives. In military terms, UAVs assist in ‘situational awareness’ and help in deciding operating methodology for the crisis.
Subsequent detailed UAV runs help in carrying out more extensive surveys of the affected zone and help in judging the extent and categories of damage. This is considered vital for humanitarian assistance, helps in planning, and securing aid to the incident site from external sources. The aid has to be specific to the disaster as the requirements would vary depending upon the type of crisis faced. In case communication links have broken down the UAVs can also form vital communication links for the administration.
The UAV effort helps to coalesce with the other sources of information (satellite, imagery, manned aerial effort, ground reports, historical information and so on) and present a composite incident remediation picture as it develops on the ground. They help in monitoring the progress of relief and rehabilitation work. A project utilising UAVs was undertaken by Medair and Drone Adventures group in March 2014 in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan (7 November 2013) to support reconstruction and rehabilitation activities. The Typhoon Haiyan resulted in over six thousand deaths, devastated the city of Tacloban along with the islands of Leyte & Panaon, and had displaced more than 6 million people. The imagery supplied by the UAVs proved useful in both tactical and strategic terms and established the utility of UAVs in the disaster recovery phase.
Some efforts/projects which are of interest as relevant to disasters pertain to: –
– Search and Rescue. Taking assistance of UAVs equipped with special cameras like the infrared camera, UAVs to assist in search and rescue as is being done in Project ICARUS of the European Union. It focusses on Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) and Maritime Search and Rescue (MSAR).
– Delivery of Medical Payloads by UAVs- Papua New Guinea 2014. Médecins Sans Frontières, carried out an onsite pilot project in September 2014 using UAVs to undertake delivery of diagnostic samples between a remote health clinic near Malalaua to Kerema hospital. The distance between the two places by road was 63 km and involved a four-hour long drive. The aerial distance was 43 km and it took 55 minutes for the UAV with a swap of batteries midway. The concept of aerial delivery of medical payload using UAVs was successfully proven.
– Flood Prevention Studies at Dar es Salaam 2015. During February and March 2015, UAV studies were carried out by World Bank and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team to obtain high-resolution imagery for development of flood modelling and exposure maps in Dar es Salaam. The Government has commenced funding infrastructure projects in areas found vulnerable by the UAV study.
– Glacier Monitoring in Nepal, 2016. Utrecht University, ICIMOD and HiView conducted a unique pilot project on the debris-covered Himalayan Lirung Glacier using a UAV in 2013. Three missions were conducted namely, Langtang in May 2014, Langtang in October 2015 after the earthquake that struck Nepal on 25 April 2015, and Everest in November 2015. In the earthquake, the Langtang catchment was very badly affected. In addition to the mission, UAV was also used in October 2015 over the Langtang village area to map the extent of the damage and to try and reconstruct the causes and the volume of ice and debris that was deposited on the village. Such studies would help in predicting damage that could be expected from glaciers in the event of earthquakes.
Unmanned Vehicles other than UAVs: It can be seen that in the case of UAVs, it has taken decades to get to the stage of utilising them for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, it is hoped that in case of the USV, UUV and the UGV the incorporation would be much quicker. In fact, the UGVs are already playing a role in case of earthquake relief operations, firefighting and bomb disposal in civilian areas. USVs and UUVs would also find their due place in providing relief in disasters related to deep flooding on land, rescue & assistance at sea, preventing oil slick from reaching the shores, submarines and ship rescue etc. Progress under project ICARUS of the EU is worthy of mention in this regard. Small and Large Unmanned Ground Vehicles (SUGV and LUGV) were utilised for this project. The task of the heavy-duty ground robot, LUGV, was to clear debris hampering the search and rescue, SAR. The LUGV was equipped with laser sensors, GPS and associated sensors & cameras for its navigation and transit. A gas sensor was also used to detect hazardous gases in the disaster environment. The LUGV successfully broke through concrete walls and removed debris obstructing access to the damaged buildings. It was demonstrated that the SUGV could be transported by the LUGV. The SUGV was suitable for entering buildings and search for survivors using cameras. It was also capable to drive over uneven ground rubble and climb stairs. A two-way voice communication module could enable communication between the survivor and the SAR team.
Maritime search and rescue. A robotized survival capsule was also developed under ICARUS for maritime search and rescue. It is a robotic surface platform that carries an uninflated 4-man life raft. The capsule can approach survivors and automatically inflate the life raft close to them. It is equipped with a video camera and a variety of sensors required for it to complete its task.
Unmanned vehicles are on course for extended applications in the field of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The evolution of these vehicles from the drawing boards of military laboratories to the battlefield has now found an echo in the disaster relief arena. The commercial space appears to be excited over the prospect of producing ever-increasing numbers of these exotic vehicles for different types of uses in the civil space. The applications are growing by the day, be it for UAVs, UUVs, USVs or UGVs, the only hitch appears to be the lagging behind of international regulatory procedures and coordination framework under which such humanitarian efforts can be directed irrespective of the nation or nations where disaster may strike. The Unmanned vehicles offer an unprecedented advantage over manned efforts in providing quick and efficient succour to the affected area at economical costs.
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