Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Director’s Take: Introducing the TEEX Forensic Science Academy

I have to admit that I am one of the millions of viewers that enjoy the CSI shows on TV. I have always been a technology junkie, so the use of fancy equipment and techniques to catch the bad guys is very compelling to me. Unfortunately, investigating a crime scene usually doesn't work that way in the “real world.”

First of all, high-tech forensics toys cost a lot of money, and most law enforcement agencies do not have the resources to afford them. Secondly, in most communities, the forensics “specialists” are the brave law enforcement professionals who are also responding to the incident. With the exception of larger police agencies, it is unusual to have a separate team of experts arriving at the scene to manage the evidence.

As you might expect, the amount of available practitioner-based training in forensics is inconsistent and fragmented, at best, leading to compromised management of evidence. A crime scene can be difficult to assess, resulting in two common challenges: improper collection and preservation of evidence. If "everything" at the scene is collected as evidence versus using a more selective collection process or protocol, these materials may present storage challenges for the police agency property room as well as backlogging problems for the crime lab used to process and analyze the evidence.
In addition, if the evidence is not collected properly, the prosecution of the crime could be seriously compromised.

About a year ago, the TEEX Public Safety and Security Division identified this gap in law-enforcement training and decided to take action to help address it. What emerged was the Forensic Science Academy, or FSA.
The FSA is a very rigorous program of training and technical assistance targeted at law enforcement professionals and civilian personnel responsible for processing crime scenes. The FSA will train and educate Texas justice system personnel in science-based best practices designed to promote proper crime scene investigation, evidence collection/preservation and courtroom presentation. This training will lead to the assurance of properly collected and preserved evidence, the relief of backlogged labs and a savings of tax dollars through a more efficient legal system.

Remember, the shows on TV may be entertaining, but the means of investigation on those shows is not practical.

If you would like to learn more about the TEEX Forensic Science Academy, please click
here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Practical applications for response robots

Imagine this situation: You are a first responder and you arrive at the scene of a building that has collapsed. You know the building is a warehouse that stores hazardous materials. You also know that it is the middle of the work day, so there may be people trapped inside. Would you rather spend the time putting on level-A suits and setting up a decontamination station, or would you rather send a robot in the building immediately upon arrival?

I know what I’d want to do. This is just one of many scenarios in which robot developers are hoping to help emergency responders stay safe. After all, how can emergency responders help the victim if they become victims themselves?

Check out the video below to find out more.



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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

NIST Robot Testing Methods

The robots at Disaster City® this week came to be tested – and tested they were. The following is a list of the testing the robots were subjected to. Some robots are specialized in function and do not perform all the tests.

The tests are all in various stages of being standardized and the test methods are being evaluated as much – if not more – than the robots themselves.

“We are getting robot data to standardize the tests,” said Adam Jacoff, National Institute of Standards and Technology Robotics Research Engineer. “We have to make sure the tests are fair, repeatable and easily reproduced to proliferate widely. The process involves building a consensus around the test methods with robot developers, emergency responders and test administrators.”

Communication testing

Communications? Think about it, if you can’t tell the robot what to do, how is it going to do it?

“Your system is only as good as your radio link,” said Patrick Goode with Remotec Northrup Grumman. “If you can only operate a 100 meters away, how much utility does that really give a first responder? It’s good to see that NIST is including these types of tests in this evaluation.”

The communication tests are designed to test radio signals and the ability to function at varying distances. It is divided into two parts: line-of-sight testing and non-line-of-sight testing.

Line-of-sight testing: Every 100 meters, operators must use the robot to read a visual chart and do a specific task. The longest distance on the course is 1,100 meters away from the operator.

This year, a new test was added to communication testing – Non-line-of-sight sight testing. At 500 meters from the operator, cargo containers are stacked three high by two wide. The idea is to determine if a robot can function when its radio signal does not have a direct line of sight. Once behind the containers, operators must get the robot to read a visual chart and do specific tasks.

“It is good to have a non-partial, third-party to allow us to test our radio equipment,” Goode said. “In the old days it was all fiber optic reels because there was no radio technology to reach more than 200 meters. The technology we have now is fairly recent – within the last couple of years. Being allowed to test out here lets the first responders know this technology is real and the capability is out there.”

Bottom line - the farther the responder can work from a hazardous situation the better.

Goode added, “Typically, in hazardous types of environments, you want as much distance between the user of the robot and the scenario as possible.”

Aquatic testing

This is the second year NIST has included underwater testing for submersible robots. These tiny submarines can be used in unsafe or unstable underwater environments to protect rescue and recovery workers.

The underwater robots are also equipped with lights and cameras, much like their on-land brothers and sisters. Check out the following video clip taken from a submersible robot.


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Other test methods

These tests are all done remotely without being able to see the robot actually do the test. Operators must rely on the robots cameras and sensors to complete the operation.

Mobility: Tests the maneuverability of the robots. Robots must climb stairs and steep angles, traverse gaps and crawl through various obstacles.

Manipulation: Various test methods test how robots can perform tasks like picking up objects and other dexterity exercises.

Human/System Interactions: How easy are the robots to use to completely search an unknown environment? In this case, it’s a random maze with rolling and pitching floors.


Cache Packaging, Weight, Setup, Tools: Most basic test. Used to determine size, weight, packaging, tools needed, etc.

Endurance: Tests measure the operator and robots ability to negotiate various types of terrain within a fixed course. The more times the course can be negotiated in succession, the more endurance. There is even a robot with fuel cell technology currently being tested.

Visual Acuity: How well can the robot “see.” Tests measure field of view, pan, tilt, illumination, and clarity of robot cameras. On uneven terrain, can the robot point to the object in question.

Mapping: Lasers are mounted on robots to make 2-D and 3-D maps of search areas. Currently, experiments are ongoing to quantify the value of searching a mapped area versus searching an unknown environment. The photo to the left is an example of a map generated by a laser mounted on a robot.

Towing: Towing cargo by dragging and rolling. Examples: To haul lumber down range for shoring and hauling victims on litters or skids.

Decontamination: Robots must be able to be washed with a pressure washer. The robot is sprinkled with a specialized powder. After washing, a black light is passed over the robot to determine if it is truly clean.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hardware heroes: search and rescue robots

Video highlights from Monday.

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Will robots soon be tools used by urban search and rescue teams?

“I feel strongly that robots will be a valuable asset in the near future for search and rescue teams from around the world,” said
Texas Task Force 1 Director Bob McKee. “They have tangible benefits that can supplement rescuers.”

This week at
Disaster City®, one can get a glimpse of the future.

Approximately 35 robot manufacturers from across the United States and international representatives from Japan, Germany and Canada will test the latest in robot technology at the world’s most realistic search and rescue training ground. The robots represented envelop all formats – ground, air and water.

“The developers will test the robots and a lot of data will be collected on Monday and Tuesday,” said Billy Parker, TEEX Urban Search and Rescue Program Manager. “The robots will then be used by responders from around the country on Wednesday and Thursday and the responders will give the manufacturers feedback to improve the robots for search and rescue. That’s the ultimate goal: To get the robots ready for a search and rescue environment.”

Standardized test methods are set up around Disaster City® to test robot mobility, energy, power, sensors, manipulation and human/system interaction – to name a few.

“The standard test methods are meant to be abstract and meant to be replicated anywhere,” Adam Jacoff, National Institute of Standards and Technology Robotics Research Engineer said. “The idea is to be able to build the test in your shop and practice. The tests are driven by responder needs and requirements. In reducing the tests to an apparatus and method we are conveying to the developers how to answer the problems.”

The exercise is sponsored by NIST (a part of the Department of Commerce) and the Department of Homeland Security.

Why at Disaster City®?

Disaster City is a 52-acre, mock community which features full-scale, collapsible structures designed to simulate various levels of disaster and wreckage. Emergency responders from across the globe venture to Disaster City® for unparalleled search and rescue training and exercises. Simply put, Disaster City® is the most comprehensive emergency response training facility available today.

“We have been to several FEMA training facilities and everyone has their own key components,” Jacoff said. “Disaster City is the one place that really puts it all together. The variety of scenarios here is unmatched anywhere else. We can bring responders in and teach them to operate the robots in the test methods then we can deploy into the scenarios – the train crashes, the rubble piles, the partially collapsed structures. That’s the kind of thing only found at Disaster City and the TEEX and Texas A&M folks are always very gracious in supporting us.”

Check back later this week for more video, pictures and information regarding the NIST Robot Evaluations.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A&M's Mays Business School Experiences Disaster City®

Click on any of the pictures to see a high-resolution version.

Check out this brief video of the day’s events.

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Some things you can’t learn in the classroom. On Monday, 90
Texas A&M Mays Business School MBA students engaged in a unique and highly stressful learning experience -- one they'll hope never happens in real life.

The entire first-year MBA class participated in a gauntlet of exercises at the world-famous
Disaster City® to learn to deal with demanding emergency situations. The Texas Engineering Extension Service’s (TEEX) Disaster City® – located about two miles from Texas A&M’s campus – is 52 acres of devastation and destruction used to teach first responders the skills necessary for search and rescue.

TEEX specializes in training first responders in all disciplines and, in conjunction with Mays Business School leaders, developed a day of training the MBA students will never forget. Exercises included rescuing a live person from an overturned train car, lowering a live patient from the top of a two-story building, extracting a live victim from a confined space, moving a concrete panel with only ropes and a scavenger hunt using GPS technology.

"Critical decision-making during the course of a disaster is the essence of emergency response,” said Bob McKee, Director of TEEX’s Urban Search and Rescue division, which runs the day-to-day operations of Disaster City®. “We are excited to help another part of The Texas A&M University System experience the world-class facilities and training we have to offer.”

The students got sweaty, dirty and tired. But they also got a sense of trust and a sense of working as a team in situations which are chaotic and out of their comfort zone.

“The biggest thing that came out of today was working with our team and good communication with our team members,” Mays student A.J. Oben said. “At the end of the day – in business or anything you do – you have to work as a team. To be honest, I never dreamt of being a part of anything like this. This experience has been completely mind-boggling and it’s a unique opportunity to bring real-life experiences to the business world.”

Kelli Kilpatrick, director of the MBA Program added: “This terrific collaborative effort between the MBA program and TEEX provides a valuable enrichment experience that is unique to the Texas A&M MBA program. This one-of-a-kind enrichment experience requires students to act quickly, adjust the plan as necessary, and solve problems as a team. These are skills directly applicable to real-world business. It is an experience which we believe will equip our MBA students with leadership qualities necessary to succeed throughout their careers.”










Friday, October 31, 2008

Meter School Images

The week-long 2008 SWEMA Texas Meter School wraps up on Friday. Check out some of the images and video acquired during the event.

To get an understanding why electrical meters are important to a utility as well as customers, see the video titled "The Importance of Electrical Metering and Meter Component Analysis."
The second video, "Electrical Safety/Arcing Demonstration," gives some compelling examples of why safety around electricity is important and why proper personal protective equipment is necessary.
video video




Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Metering professionals converge on Riverside Campus

They're not a glamorous bunch, but they certainly perform an important function. Electric utilities workers from across the southwestern United States have gathered at the Texas A&M Riverside Campus, where TEEX is hosting the annual Texas Meter School conducted by the Southwest Electrical Metering Association, or SWEMA.

It’s an ever-evolving discipline in which training to learn the latest in technical advances is critical. You may be asking yourself why this is important. Well, for one, improper metering can affect your wallet.

With escalating utility costs, it’s critical that electric power suppliers discover ways to keep customer costs down while providing efficient and reliable power. The main focus of the school is to save the consumer money by training metering personnel in a variety of subjects. Students learn the value of metering accuracy, as well how to fine-tune electrical networks to provide consumers the proper balance of power with as little possible waste. Perhaps most importantly, students learn how to educate consumers as to how power is provided and how they can reduce their own costs.

More than 170 students registered this morning in the Utilities Training Hangar at TEEX’s Riverside Campus and classes started this afternoon and will continue through the week. Students sign up for one of five courses, all of which focus on the latest and greatest in electrical metering.

“SWEMA is a volunteer organization that keeps the safety and well-being of the metering profession at the forefront,” SWEMA planning committee member Mike Cleveland said. “TEEX has the same goals and we are fortunate to be able to partner with them for the annual meter schools.”

In addition, the school features 42 vendors showcasing the newest metering technology.

“This is my third time to attend and I’m looking forward to this week,” said Charles Sellers with CPS Energy in San Antonio. “The interaction between instructors and students is great and you meet other guys from other utilities and share ideas about how to do things. It’s a great experience.”

Courses and enrollment
Introduction to Electrical Metering – 73 students
Advanced Electrical Metering Technology – 38 students
Complex Electrical Metering Technology – 32 students
National Generation/Transmission Metering – 20 students
Diversified Electrical Metering Technology – 9 students

Check back later this week for more photos and video from meter school.

Monday, October 20, 2008

T-MEX Trade Competiveness Conference Important for Texas Economy

Periodically, TEEX Director Gary Sera will share his thoughts and unique insights on this blog in a segment called The Director’s Take. Here’s the first installment of what will surely be a different approach to letting you know what is going on at the Texas Engineering Extension Service …
The Director’s Take:I am told by many that TEEX is the best-kept secret in Texas, so perhaps this blog will help to inform you on some of our initiatives.

If you do know something about TEEX, it’s probably the
Texas Fire Training School, which is the largest fire school in the world, or Texas Task Force 1, which leads the search and rescue operations for the state during major events like Hurricane Ike. However, I’ll bet you didn't know about our role in helping Texas and the U.S. in the economic development arena.

Leveraging Texas-Mexico
Recently, TEEX partnered with the Global Research Center at Texas A&M University to establish the
Mexico-Texas Trade Corridor Consortium. Under the leadership of Dr. F. Barry Lawrence, this consortium should help Texas mitigate the trend of western firms outsourcing their manufacturing to Asia. This trend has a lot of momentum, but the long-term viability of shipping products across the Pacific Ocean is questionable given the high cost of logistics and rising wages in Asian markets. Ultimately, global firms are likely to cede control of local markets to their local specialists. What this means is that Texas has the opportunity to create manufacturing centers closer to the customer that minimizes transportation costs and lead times. A&M's Global Research Center states, "This regional manufacturing process is already well under way with many such centers already started that tend to begin with a particular industry theme ...”

You may not be aware that China buying from the U.S. accounts for less than 15 percent of the trade between the two, while Mexico buys 35 percent. The Global Research Center sees the potential for this imbalance to tilt more in the favor of the U.S. as the
maquilas buy products from American firms to complete their production. This symbiotic relationship is not possible with the Pacific Ocean in between. Chinese products are more likely to go to Europe or some other final market for their next stage of production.

Toyota in Texas
When Toyota located its manufacturing plant in San Antonio, this represented a strong example of what could happen. Toyota recognized that three of the largest cities in the U.S. are in Texas, with nearby major markets in Louisiana and Oklahoma. Cars and their respective subassemblies are difficult and expensive to ship. Proximity to suppliers is a big priority and Toyota sees the maquila region as a major opportunity for supplies. Generally, this could lead to a final assembly manufacturing boom in South Texas supported by a raw materials and subassembly growth in Northeast Mexico. Other industries, such as electronics and aerospace, could follow with a focused marketing approach.

This regional manufacturing center needs logistical support to be successful. Much remains to be done as the investment in infrastructure and process improvements will be significant. The key objective of the Mexico-Texas Trade Corridor Consortium is to bring together groups of companies (manufacturers and shippers), logistics providers, government and economic entities. Together, they will study and develop the attributes of establishing an infrastructure that optimizes global supply chain throughput from worldwide sources through Mexican value-added and, ultimately, to American final assembly processes in Texas.

Stakeholder conference
The first meeting of this consortium - the
Texas-Mexico Trade
Competitiveness Conference - will take place Nov. 13, 2008, at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas. The conference is free and open to the public. Three additional conferences will be scheduled through 2009 in South Texas and Mexico (dates and locations to be announced).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Welcome!

Welcome to the blog that will chronicle the news and happenings of the Texas Engineering Extension Service, or TEEX. College Station is most widely known as the home of Texas A&M University, but it is also home to TEEX.

A LITTLE ABOUT TEEX: TEEX delivers a wide range of technical and skills training programs aimed at employed workers and those entering the labor force. During its fiscal year 2007, TEEX provided training and technical assistance to more than 225,000 people from all 50 states, five U.S. territories, the District of Columbia and 53 countries via more than 8,300 deliveries conducted across the nation and around the world.

SOME COOL STUFF WE DO:

TEEX provides fire training. The 120-acre Brayton Fire Training Field is world-renowned for its large-scale, hands-on fire training props.



TEEX has unmatched homeland security training. We use real-world exercises to teach companies, communities, states and our nation to prepare for and handle WMD and terrorist attacks, as well as other disaster situations.
TEEX trains public works personnel in a variety of disciplines. TEEX reaches and serves most skill groups and departments found in government, and also tailors training specifically for the needs of industrial and private sector customers.


TEEX is home to the largest OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health) training center in the country. Last year, TEEX trained more students in workplace safety than the federal OSHA Training Institute.


















Anchored by the 52-acre Disaster City
®, TEEX’s urban search and rescue training prepares rescue teams for the unthinkable. TEEX is also the sponsoring agency for Texas Task Force 1, a state and federal US&R team.



TEEX serves as a catalyst foreconomic development in the state of Texas. Businesses of all sizes benefit from TEEX’s focus on the industrial supply chain, emergency planning and manufacturing assistance.

TEEX trains law enforcement and security personnel. This division is home to the Central Texas Police Academy and the largest private-sector-taughtUnexploded Ordnance course. We blow the doors off the competition – literally! (See the video below)

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