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Drones for Disaster Response: NASA STEReO Project Kicks Off

A man speaks in front of a large screen showing flight-planning and drone traffic management software.
Application specialist and aviation consultant George Lawton speaks at the first workshop of the Scalable Traffic Management for Emergency Response Operations, or STEReO, project, Feb. 12, 2020, at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. The screen behind Lawton shows the connection that can be made between a popular open-source flight-planning platform and prototype services for traffic management of unmanned aerial vehicles from Ames’ Airspace Operations Laboratory.
Credits: NASA/Dominic Hart

Natural disasters, like wildfires and hurricanes, can lead to many lives lost and billions of dollars in costs across the U.S. each year. To help reduce that impact, drones have great potential to assist emergency responders by making their interventions even faster, more targeted and better able to adapt to changing circumstances. Also known as unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, these vehicles and the systems that support them could multitask in unique ways, for instance by using software to track firefighters on the ground before dropping forest fire retardant a safe distance away. A new NASA project, called Scalable Traffic Management for Emergency Response Operations, or STEReO, is working on the tools needed to make this a reality. The team and its many collaborators kicked the project into gear with a workshop in February 2020.

While STEReO is conceived and led by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley – and builds on NASA’s research in drone traffic management, human factors, vehicle autonomy and communications – a variety of partners will be essential to making it work. Many took part in February’s session to provide feedback on the opportunities foreseen and ways to overcome expected hurdles together. Participants ranged from federal agencies, like the U.S. Forest Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration, to city and state fire departments and private companies providing UAS vehicles and services.

The NASA team is now working closely with its partners to design, in the most useful and useable ways possible, STEReO’s tools and operations for future emergency response efforts. This work will lead to initial flight demonstrations to be held at Ames and at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. As the project matures, STEReO will show how its concepts would work by conducting a flight demonstration of a wildfire scenario and a simulation of a hurricane response. 

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Last Updated
Jul 26, 2023