ASU students compete in urban search and rescue drone competition

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Representatives from the Department of Defense and FEMA watched students from Arizona State University compete in a two-day drone fly-off competition that’s designed to help refine the next era of urban search-and-rescue technology.

Teams of students spent months designing and refining their drone systems, then put them to the test Thursday and Friday inside a gym on campus.

Organizers spent several days converting the gym into a simulated disaster zone complete with partially collapsed buildings, a makeshift sewer system, power lines, wind gusts and debris.

Students were tasked with finding 11 “victims” – mannequins that were hidden under tarps or foam rubble.

“Going into a rescue situation, you don’t know what you’re getting into,” said Michael Gonzales, the student drone pilot of Team Swift Falcon. “That was probably the hardest [part] because I didn't know how close the quarters were going to be. How much room I had for the quad.”

Several of the mannequins had heating pads lodged inside them to simulate body heat. Students needed to scan the mannequins with sensors to determine which were still “alive.”

Each team of students got $3,000 to outfit their drones with cameras, Lidar, and other technology.

The tricky part, said student Dangli Yang, was getting all the different sensors to work together.

“A lot of the capabilities here have drawn a lot of interest from the evaluating crew,” said Lloyd Brown of the ASU Research Enterprise (ASURE).

ASURE plans to make the fly-off an annual event to demonstrate the aerial innovation at ASU.

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Derek StaahlDerek Staahl is an Emmy Award-winning reporter and fill-in anchor who loves covering stories that matter most to Arizona families.

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Derek Staahl

This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

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