UNR opens autonomous systems research center | KUNR

UNR opens autonomous systems research center

Oct 6, 2014

This is Marie, a robot that UNR students are training to do collaborative tasks with humans, like baking a cake, in order to study robot/human interactions. Robots are just one of many autonomous systems being studied at NAASIC.

Robots, aerial and underwater drones, driverless road vehicles, and pretty much any other autonomous system you can imagine are being explored by researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno. With $3 million from the state, the school is opening the Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center or NAASIC to house these projects. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss has the latest details.

As a small drone hovers overhead, researcher Kam Leang envisions what his unmanned aerial vehicle or UAV could be doing within the next few years to help first responders dealing with emergency situations, like wildfires.

"It would be really nice to put something in the air with cameras," he says, "a communication system to quickly assess damage, to determine the direction of the fire, and also to see if we can locate people who need help."

Leang is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Utah, but he used to teach at UNR and continues to collaborate with the school for a three-year project funded by the National Science Foundation.

He says that drones could be used to communicate with victims in remote locations, deliver emergency supplies, and save critical time for first responders.

"You're really just stitching together a network in terms of information," Leang explains, "so these systems can be deployed with very sophisticated sensors, and that information can be viewed in real time and it can be distributed to key personnel to make the process more efficient."

Warren Rapp, the new director of NAASIC, says the technology could also be used for finding missing children more quickly:

"Let's say a kid was kidnapped in a white Ford Taurus. They have camera technologies that can actually go above the city and pick out all the white Ford Tauruses in one shot, and then they can follow and track. Then if it comes down to it, if they know the geographic area that it was in, they can narrow it down to one, two, three vehicles."

NAASIC itself is still in the works and will be eventually be located in downtown Reno. Right now, UNR offers a minor in unmanned autonomous systems and the school is building up its faculty credentials to establish a major as well.