Focus at Four: A&M researcher uses drones to aid Harvey relief

FORT BEND COUNTY, Tex. (KBTX) - When Harvey struck the Texas coast, Robin R. Murphy knew her team could help.

"We do disaster response," said Murphy, leader of the Texas A&M University Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue. "We've been doing that since 1999. Our first deployment was the World Trade Center with ground robots."

But this week, Murphy and her team of unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones or UAVs, are in Fort Bend County helping the emergency management team get a better and quicker look at what's happening in the midst of the floodwaters.

"Really what you're talking about is the ability for the drainage experts, the health and human services experts, the search and rescue teams to get eyes on the situation," said Murphy, explaining that the drones can be operated remotely and feed back video in real time. That way, those experts can gain access to the areas that are too dangerous or expensive for humans to access at the time.

Murphy says, the technology is impressive--but more basic than you might expect. In fact, Murphy says her team has purchased a drone or two off of Amazon, where anyone can buy one.

"The evolution from them being the really, overly expensive military drones and systems," said Murphy. "Now, ones you can get for $1,000 that are incredibly useful."

Murphy says she and her team will remain in Fort Bend County as long as they're needed. Murphy is also a Raytheon professor of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M.

For more information on the Texas A&M University Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue, visit the Related Links. For all of the drone videos posted by the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management, visit the Related Links.

For the full conversation with Murphy, see the video player above.