Ask The Experts: Preparing for Natural Disasters

IEEE members will answer your questions about robot rescue and smart grid in an emergency

4 September 2013

Whether using satellite data to spot sinkhole locations, or images from space to observe changes in climate and land, IEEE members around the world are helping us to better prepare for emergencies. In our September issue, The Institute features the many ways engineers are monitoring changes on Earth to help detect potential natural disasters.

Despite better detection methods, no technology can stop a natural disaster from occurring. It’s inevitable. So what technologies are being developed to better prepare and recover when a hurricane sweeps away homes, or an earthquake destroys a neighborhood? Two experts may have the answer. Below you’ll meet IEEE Fellow Robin Murphy, a leader in the field of robot rescue, and IEEE Member Steve Collier, known as “smart grid man.” We invite you to send your questions in via social media @IEEEInstitute or post them below and we’ll publish their answers on 30 September.  


Meet Robin Murphy: Developer of Rescue Robots

Named one of the “most influential women in technology” by Fast Company, Murphy is a pioneer in the field of rescue robots and human-robot interaction, and currently heads Texas A&M’s Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue, in College Station.

Murphy 200px Photos: Robin Murphy

Murphy and her team design software and interfaces for robots that are portable (small enough to fit inside a backpack) and can be deployed quickly. The Inuktun VGTV robot, for example, resembles a small tank and can rappel through rubble to reach survivors. Their Sea-RAI robot, which looks like a tiny pontoon boat, can inspect bridge damage and other structures underwater. Murphy told Fast Company that after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, she was inspired to build robots (not for Mars exploration as others were looking to do), but for exploring underneath rubble on Earth.

Steve-Collier Photo: Steven Collier

Meet Steven Collier: Smart Grid Guru

Collier is one of IEEE’s technical experts on smart grid, and is the vice president of business development at Milsoft Utility Solutions, based in Abilene, Texas. The company helps plan and operate electrical distribution centers. He blogs about smart grid on his website and is a regular presenter for IEEE Smart Grid Webinars

Collier often uses the term “self-healing” when describing a smart grid system, which refers to its ability to quickly recover on its own after a storm or other natural disaster. For example, several areas with smart grid systems did not experience power outages during Hurricane Sandy. Moreover, the money saved by not losing power in an emergency, as well as the necessity of having power in a time of need, contribute to the growing support to switch to a smart grid system.

Want to learn more about how robots can help save lives in the wake of a natural disaster? Or how we can “smarten up” the power grid to keep the lights on during major storms? Submit your questions below or tweet us @IEEEInstitute.

Image: NOAA

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