Model-Based Design of a Smart Emergency Response System

Disaster can strike at any moment. When it does, time becomes critical as seconds can make the difference in saving lives. Environmental and human limitations are key contributors to delays in response. Now, imagine a system that combines cyberspace with the physical world to help emergency personnel operate at near instantaneous speeds by connecting humans with smart technology and automated optimal mission planning.

The Smart Emergency Response System (SERS) capitalizes on the latest advancements in cyber-physical systems (CPS) to connect autonomous aircraft and ground vehicles, rescue dogs, robots, and a high-performance computing mission control center into a realistic vision.

The SERS concept was developed by a team of nine leading organizations from academia and industry in response to the SmartAmerica Challenge, a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow project designed to use CPS for meaningful societal impact. The SERS team included BluHaptics, Boeing, MathWorks, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
National Instruments, North Carolina State University, University of North Texas, University of Washington, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. In June 2014, the system was presented at the White House and demonstrated at the SmartAmerica Challenge Expo.

How it works

The SERS concept is designed to provide survivors and emergency personnel with information to locate and assist each other during a disaster. The concept allows requests for help to be submitted to the MATLAB-based mission center via regular 911 operators or directly by using an authorized mobile device app. The mission center communicates the mission plan to emergency responders as well as autonomous ground vehicles and aircraft (fixed-wing and rotorcraft). The mission plan includes instructions for pick-up or delivery of rescue aids and supplies, including search-and-rescue dogs equipped with a sensory harness, a six-foot-tall humanoid, mobile robot arms, sensory drones, medication, and defibrillators. The command-and-control center accounts for the available resources to serve the incoming requests and to generate a time-optimal action plan for the mission (Figure 1). The necessary communication infrastructure is provided by an opportunistic network based on an app that relays messages between mobile devices, as well as an ad hoc WiFi network set up by autonomous drones equipped with directional antennas to increase reach.

Model-Based Design has proven to be a successful facilitator in the SERS design and integration process. In particular, the use of a common and reliable design environment has enabled a smooth workflow while adding new components to the core optimization system. SERS algorithms have been continuously refined through multidomain simulation, and the operations of the integrated devices have been tested in a 3D virtual world. Combining the rescue mission optimization with inexpensive hardware testbeds, sensor-equipped animals, humanoid components, cars, planes, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has allowed for illustrating how future systems-of-systems can collaborate -- especially if built on the foundations of proper engineering paradigms.

As a specific element, one part of SERS combines Simulink models with the 3D virtual world. Such a combination provides a realistic 3D visualization of simulations that are at the heart of Model-Based Design. Any car, airplane, drone, machine, or robot (of which behavior is designed in Simulink) can now be simulated, projected, and observed in motion on a 3D map of Earth.

As a result, the devices are driving, walking, and flying through specific geolocations that are defined by waypoints. Simulating the autonomous rotorcrafts, fixed-wing aircraft, and ground vehicles with Simulink, and then visualizing them in a 3D environment, enables observing the operations as the mission plan unfolds -- for example, to provide realistic scenarios for sophisticated training approaches (Figure 2).

The SERS concept illustrates how to arrange for a more efficient and effective disaster response. The CPS paradigm unlocks the potential for hardware and software as collaborating modalities. Integrated interoperability between hardware and software components at various levels of abstraction is enabled with Model-Based Design. Also, the rapid prototyping of components and integration into the system under design is supported by simulation technology. Most importantly, a design on an open and trusted platform makes the accessibility, processing of data, and computation meaningful for rescue operations directly in the field, which holds the promise of technology forces dramatically changing the equation in emergency response efforts.

Justyna Zander is representing MathWorks. In 2013-2014, she was the team lead in the SERS project. Her PhD is in computer science and engineering. Pieter J. Mosterman is a senior research scientist at MathWorks. The project on autonomous emergency response system that he led in 2013 provided the foundation for building SERS. His PhD is in electrical and computer engineering.

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