Researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) have developed a low- cost, high-resolution imaging system that can be attached to a helicopter to create a complete and detailed picture of an area devastated by a hurricane or other natural disaster. The resulting visual information can be used to estimate the number of storm refugees and assess the need for health and humanitarian services. Aid organizations currently don't have a quick and accurate way to determine how many people need assistance. Satellites can collect images of areas affected by a natural disaster, but there are dissemination restrictions and cloud cover can prevent collection of images.
The imaging system - designed by David Price and senior research engineer Gary Gray - is called the "Mini ModPOD," which stands for "Miniature Modular Photographic Observation Device." It consists of an off-the-shelf Canon Digital Rebel XTi digital camera, a global positioning system receiver, a small circuit board that uploads mission parameters, and an inertial measurement unit that measures the aircraft's rate of acceleration and changes in rotational attributes, including pitch, roll, and yaw. The images collected from the system can be stitched together to create a complete picture of the affected area.
The Mini ModPOD was developed with funding from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and agency officials would like to begin using this device as soon as possible. After responding to the recent devastation caused by Hurricanes Hanna and Ike, the CDC asked GTRI to accelerate delivery of the imaging device for use during the 2008 hurricane season.