Carnegie Mellon News Online Edition: September 27, 2001
Carnegie Mellon News Online Edition
In This Issue
University Rallies to Mourn National Tragedy

Carnegie Mellon Rated "Most Wired," Again

"National Treasure" Robert Page Receives Paul Mellon Professorship of Music

University 23rd in U.S. News' Rating

40-Year-Old Sets Hectic Pace as Freshman and CFA Staff Member

Ferguson Leads Effort to Trap, Neuter and Release Feral Cats

Autonomous Helicopter Called to Assist FBI in Somerset County

Summer Appointments and Accolades

Paul Christiano Remembered

Women's Association Tours PNC Park

Satyanarayanan Heads New Intel Lab

Football Team Collects More than $5,500 for Relief Effort

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fergie Autonomous Helicopter Called to Assist FBI in Somerset County

Carnegie Mellon's involvement in a robotics presentation at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia last summer thrust it into the national investigation of the crash of United Airlines Flight 93, one of the four commercial jets involved in the worst national tragedy in U.S. history.

The morning after the horrendous events of Sept. 11, a series of phone calls initiated by civic and philanthropic leader Elsie Hillman, former Republican National Committeewoman, and Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey resulted in the deployment of a Robotics Institute autonomous helicopter 86 miles east of Pittsburgh to Shanksville, Pa., the crash site of United Flight 93. There, the helicopter and its handlers prepared to assist the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) by creating a 3D map of the crash site. However, the FBI was able to recover the airplane's black box without the helicopter's assistance.

The 3D-terrain map provides a more accurate image than a two-dimensional aerial photograph and allows objects as small as one to two inches in diameter to be spotted. The map can be rotated and viewed from many different angles on a computer.

Chuck Thorpe, director of the Robotics Institute, said the helicopter is equipped with a laser scanner, a Global Positioning System, a television camera, a navigation system, an electrical box and a compass.

"The mapping happens as fast as the helicopter flies, and the data is available on the computer immediately," Thorpe said. "Polarized filters on the laser scanner will help spot objects such as glass and metal."

Thorpe said when he received the call from the FBI requesting assistance, the helicopter was literally in pieces on the Autonomous Helicopter Lab floor in Newell-Simon Hall. He said it took "about one hour" for a team to assemble the aircraft and by 1 p.m. that afternoon it was on the road.

Accompanying the helicopter was its developer, Robotics Institute Systems Scientist Omead Amidi, Robotics Institute graduate student Ryan Miller and safety pilot Todd Dudek.

Amidi originally developed the 14-foot-long, 160-pound helicopter as the subject of his doctoral thesis. The focus of his thesis was autonomous vision for aerial mapping, exploration and reconnaissance. His thesis adviser was Takeo Kanade, the U.A. and Helen Whitaker University Professor of Robotics and Computer Science.

The autonomous helicopter project began in 1991 and by 1995 a machine was developed that could fly autonomously. In 1997, the helicopter won the seventh International Unmanned Aerial Robotics competition at Disney World, and one year later was taken to Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic to explore and map the Haughton Impact Crater as part of a NASA research project.

"I applaud Allegheny County and Carnegie Mellon for pitching in to help solve this terrible tragedy," said Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher. "Carnegie Mellon has been at the forefront of every new industry in western Pennsylvania. Its contributions make all Pittsburghers and Pennsylvanians proud of Carnegie Mellon."

Roddey said Pittsburgh again is playing a critical role during a tragic time in U.S. history.

"Pittsburgh supplied the steel during World War II and today in a different world we're supplying the technology," Roddey said. "On behalf of all the families involved in this tragedy, I thank Carnegie Mellon."

"Carnegie Mellon's presence at the Republican National Convention has had a far-reaching effect," Hillman said.

Bruce Gerson

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