July 14, 2014
Given the National Guard's recent involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's easy to forget that America's citizen-soldiers are also there to help their neighbors in the event of severe weather or other disasters.
A Domestic Operations Expo at the Indiana Air National Guard Base in Terre Haute demonstrated how modern technology and a partnership with Indiana State University can help the guard fulfill that part of its mission more effectively.
"We want to show the state and the region our assets and how our students can work with (the guard's) domestic operations," said Jeff Hauser, assistant professor of aviation technology at Indiana State and a brigadier general in the Air Guard.
Indiana State's most promising assets for partnering with the guard and the Indiana Department of Homeland Security lie in the College of Technology's unmanned systems program, which trains students to operate both ground and aerial vehicles.
"We want to combine our assets so we can give the best product to the state," Hauser said. "With some of the demonstrations today, we take our vehicle and show the video on the military systems. They actually have all of the analysis expertise so they can look at things differently."
Nearly 150 students have either completed or are enrolled in the college's 2-year-old minor in unmanned systems and the university plans to launch a bachelor's degree in unmanned systems in 2015, said Dick Baker, director of Indiana State's Center for Unmanned Systems and Human Capital Development and an assistant professor of aviation technology.
The Air Guard's partnership with Indiana State is especially important because a fighter wing at Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field has been replaced with the 181st Intelligence Wing and the local base no longer has aircraft at its disposal, noted Hauser.
"They're all analysts; they don't have vehicles that can fly. We have the Civil Air Patrol that has a manned aircraft, but depending on weather ... our vehicles would be able to work for a lot of domestic operations," he said.
"When you have people who are stranded or hurt, we deploy our vehicles and their vehicles and they go out and find out where the people are and how to get to them," Baker explained. "That information comes back to a command center and the commanders ... can direct search and extraction.
But there is an obstacle to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles - even for lifesaving purposes. The Federal Aviation Administration has yet to adopt rules on their domestic use.
John Hill, director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, helped kick off the two-day Domestic Operations Expo and said he hopes the FAA will soon approve unmanned aerial vehicles for use in disasters.
"We have to show the value that these devices bring to help us do our jobs better and not encroach on the privacy of individuals," Hill said.
A recent survey found that 57 percent of the public supports the use of unmanned systems overall, Hill noted, with 88 percent in favor of their use for search and rescue operations, and 67 percent for homeland security.
The state has been using remote controlled ground vehicles for nearly a decade and Indiana State demonstrated the use of such vehicles as part of the expo.
"Wheeled vehicles can not only give you reconnaissance on the area, but if you're looking for someone in an area where they can be trapped, like a tunnel or a garage or a collapsed building, some of our small vehicles can get in there, so it's a search and rescue thing," Baker said.
Trent Sims, a senior aviation technology major at Indiana State who is minoring in unmanned systems is also a senior airman and geospatial imagery analyst with the Air Guard. The Brazil resident said he is excited to be attending a university so close to home and so advanced in his chosen field. He said his expertise has come a long way since he got to build a robot in competition against other students as a freshman.
"So many companies are looking into unmanned systems and what they can do and Indiana State is one of the few universities to offer a minor in something like that. It's a great opportunity to get experience," he said. "I've gotten a little bit of experience with the (unmanned aerial) vehicles and it's very cool."
As technology continues to be refined, military and civilian vehicles are becoming very similar, Sims noted.
Indiana State encourages students planning to enroll in its future bachelor's degree in unmanned systems to also complete a minor, Baker said.
"These kinds of systems can be used in lots of different industries and lots of different ways of life - software engineer, pilot of an unmanned system, maintenance, analysts for imagery, you name it," he said. "There's a lot out there - anything that goes along with aviation plus other industries."
While the emphasis of the Domestic Operations Expo was on natural disasters, precision agriculture is expected to be the main benefactor of unmanned aerial vehicles, Baker noted.
"It's estimated there will be 9 billion people on the earth by 2050 and we need these tools to help us feed the world," he said.
Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/Events-by-Year/2014/Unmanned-Systems-Expo/i-KzPRzgg/0/L/July%2010%2C%202014%20Unmanned%208505-L.jpg - Gregory Betz, an aviation instructor at Indiana State University, prepares to deploy an unmanned ground vehicle as fellow instructor Gary Bullock looks on during a Domestic Operations Expo at the Indiana Air National Guard's 181st Intelligence Wing July 10, 2014. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)
Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/Events-by-Year/2014/Unmanned-Systems-Expo/i-NLGK6gL/0/L/July%2010%2C%202014%20Unmanned%208537-L.jpg - Jeff Hauser, a brigadier general with the Indiana Air National Guard and assistant professor of aviation technology at Indiana State University, discusses how the Air Guard and the university can work together following a natural disaster or other emergency during a Domestic Operations Expo at Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field July 10, 2014. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)
Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/Events-by-Year/2014/Unmanned-Systems-Expo/i-znnh7fx/0/L/July%2010%2C%202014%20Unmanned%208578-L.jpg - Trent Sims, a senior aviation technology major at Indiana State and a senior airman with the Indiana Air National Guard's 181st Intelligence wing, reviews video from an unmanned vehicle during a Domestic Operations Expo July 10, 2014 at Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)
Contact: Dick Baker, director, Center for Unmanned Systems and Human Capital Development and assistant professor of aviation technology, Indiana State University, 812-237-2662 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or email@example.com
A partnership between Indiana State University's unmanned systems program and the Indiana Air National Guard may help better serve Hoosiers in times of severe weather or other disasters.