CMU-SV Practicum Team Develops Disaster Management Software with NASA – GeoCam Cover
This summer students from Carnegie Mellon University’s Silicon Valley campus worked closely with NASA’s Intelligent Robotics Group (IRG) on the open-source disaster management project GeoCam. The team consisted of four full-time students: Phil Melzer, Rob Engel, Howard Huang, and Asem Radhwi, with advising faculty Dr. Edward Katz. Trey Smith, a NASA employee and graduate of Carnegie Mellon with a PhD in Robotics, led the team. The project lasted twelve weeks for the duration of the summer semester’s Software Engineering Practicum curriculum.
GeoCam is an open source project overseen by NASA’s IRG and funded by Google. The project consists of a collection of standalone mobile device apps intended to assist disaster responders in emergency situations. This summer the students worked on the GeoCam Cover app: A map-based information-gathering tool designed to help coordinate search and rescue efforts after a disaster such as an earthquake or a hurricane. The app uses the Google Maps API and encourages a relatively free form and extensible information sharing protocol. All content is user-generated and consists of categorized locations, prioritized tasks, and descriptive reports.
During the twelve-week project lifecycle, the team frequently met with potential end users and contributors in order to gather feedback on the GeoCam Cover app. The students presented the concept and their progress at a Disaster Management Initiative (DMI) gathering at the beginning of week six. The results of the presentation were a unanimous approval by the initiative members as well as clarified direction of the future of GeoCam Cover. In week nine part of the team visited the Menlo Park Fire Department to meet with Frank Fraone and his division and have the firefighters demo the app on android smartphones. The experience was positive for all parties, and it revealed a number of performance and user interface issues that kept the team busy for the final weeks of the semester.
The team finished the semester with the release of a stable and documented version of GeoCam Cover. The future of the app is uncertain at this point due to a volatile prioritization of resources by both NASA and Google. Should the project be continued, a few important features will likely be added. Offline support is a high priority because of the high chance of mobile network disruption after a natural disaster. Additionally, the app is ready to be integrated with other tools such as the rest of the GeoCam suite and Google’s Fusion Tables. Future work aside, GeoCam Cover in its current state is ready to be used by disaster responders on any device: Smartphone, tablet, or laptop.