Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

A View from Kristina Grifantini

Mapping Disasters in 3-D

Software based on PhotoSynth can model the scene of a disaster.

  • March 31, 2009

Imagine a building has collapsed. A team of first responders rushes to the scene and rapidly begins surveying the area for survivors. They draw makeshift maps of the area, so that incoming teams know what’s what. But newcomers don’t always understand the depictions and each minute is crucial to save survivors.

Robin Murphy from Texas A&M University (TAMU) lab and colleagues have a solution: deploy several small unmanned air vehicles (SUAVs), such as AirRobot quadrotors, to take snapshots of the rubble. The pictures are then uploaded to a software program called RubbleViewer, which quickly builds a three-dimensional map of the area that users can intuitively navigate. More efficient than drawing by hand, this system is also cheaper and more portable than the alternative–using helicopter-mounted lasers to map the rubble.

Pictures from the SUAVs are combined using the algorithms behind the panorama-making software PhotoSynth. RubbleViewer extracts information from PhotoSynth’s data points to create the three-dimensional map. It’s like putting a blanket over a bunch of needle points, says Maarten van Zomeren, a graduate at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands who helped developed the technology under supervisor and assistant professor Stijn Oomes.

While PhotoSynth has been coupled to applications like Live Search Maps and Google Maps to create enhanced, location-embedded panoramic views, RubbleViewer is designed to be fast and easy to build, taking about half an hour to create a topographic 3-D map of an area. What’s more, viewers can click on a spot to annotate the map (showing the location of possible survivors, for example) or call up the real photos tied to the spot. See the video below for more.

The program is still a prototype, but expert reviews will come out next month.

Murphy intends to combine RubbleViewer with quadrotors and land-based, search-and-rescue robots to create an easy-to-use first-responders system. Murphy is also working with the Sketch Recognition Lab at TAMU to develop electronic tablets for responders to use. “Because it’s an emergency scenario it’s really important that people don’t have to learn anything but can interact with the world in a way that’s natural or intuitive to them,” says lab director and assistant professor Tracy Hammond. “We have to enable as opposed to constraining them with technologies.”

The team plans to carry out the first tests of the combined system by the end of the summer.

Keep up with the latest in robotics at EmTech Digital.
Don't be left behind.

March 25-26, 2019
San Francisco, CA

Register now
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.