UC Berkeley Students Work with DoD Organizations on Disaster Response Innovations

Six projects were conceived in collaboration with various government organizations to address gaps in disaster response operations.

The Firefly augmented reality helmet prototype developed by one of the teams under the Innovation in Disaster Response Recovery and Resilience (IDR3) program.

The Firefly augmented reality helmet prototype developed by one of the teams under the Innovation in Disaster Response Recovery and Resilience (IDR3) program.

A team of students from the University of California (UC), Berkeley recently partnered with various U.S. and Moroccan government agencies to develop a series of projects to address gaps in disaster and crisis response. Six projects were funded and supported that would assist responders in managing disaster operations and allow them to monitor on-site data in real time. The initiative was created under the Innovation in Disaster Response Recovery and Resilience (IDR3), which was spearheaded by the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) and the Blum Center for Developing Economies.

Each project was sponsored by several U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) partner organizations and government agencies, including the U.S. Central Command, the Army Futures Command, and the U.S. Coast Guard, among others.

The projects involved various kinds of technologies, ranging from smartphone applications to augmented reality hardware, that were all designed to improve and streamline emergency response operations. The Digital Disaster Portal directly addresses this through its unified desktop dashboard and application. Different agencies can easily coordinate with each other through the platform during disaster events as they occur. This was developed alongside the Utah National Guard and the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces. Meanwhile, ID SCAN allows military personnel to update their status and location. The simplified user interface lets responders easily and quickly make personnel-allocation decisions during time-critical episodes. This was created in partnership with the U.S. Central Command in Qatar.

The Naval Information Warfare Systems Command-Pacific helped students develop a set of tools that generate visual and temporal representations of information that can be sent through various lines of communication typically used by first responders. A project in tandem with the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam worked on designing a hangaring planning tool that helps military aircraft respond more quickly during hurricanes.

The iOSOS app was conceptualized to easily connect civilians and disaster agencies for immediate rescue. The app activates during a disaster and lets users instantly send an SOS request. This was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Northern Command and the U.S. Coast Guard. In contrast, the Army Futures Command helped work on Firefly, an augmented reality helmet that “seamlessly connects to a mesh of drones to provide real-time navigational and situational data to firefighters actively working to suppress wildfires.”

The six teams were able to work on-site with their DoD clients to build and test their innovations. The aircraft hangaring project team 3D printed a number of the prototypes at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, while the other prototypes were printed at the UC Berkeley campus. The Firefly team demoed its helmet prototype at a fire station in Emeryville, Calif. Meanwhile, the Digital Disaster Portal team has been invited by the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces to attend its annual natural disaster mission exercises this coming fall to demo their tools.

The program saw a diverse range of students involved in these projects. Ten academic disciplines were represented, with over 60 percent of the students enrolled in the IDR3 program being women.

“For an engineering class that involves heavy project-based work, this definitely looks different than the overall demographics of the College of Engineering,” said Vivek Rao, a lecturer at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and a mechanical engineering researcher who was part of the pilot version of the program. “Focusing on this type of problem domain—applying innovation to social-impact issues—really drew a different audience, and we’re really excited to continue to build on that at the Blum Center.”

Nicholas Callegari, one of the mechanical engineering students involved in the program, shared his experience working on their team’s project alongside various DoD partners.

“We had an awesome time experimenting and developing our various prototypes, and it was also very exciting garnering feedback from firefighters and other stakeholders regarding the prototypes we developed. Most of our team members had not worked with an organization like [the Army Futures Command] before, and it ended up being a great learning experience that exposed us to the managerial styles and organization of a specialized government entity.”

The six projects were showcased to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the startup and venture community, and disaster tech professionals.

For more information, visit NSIN and the Blum Center for Developing Economies.