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IBM announced last Tuesday that a professor from the College of Computer Studies at the De La Salle University (DLSU) Manila has been granted an IBM Faculty Award. Professor Clement Ong, who is also the Chairperson of the Computer Technology Department earned the $10,000 grant for his Aerial Dynamic Assessment Robot for National Advancement (ADARNA) project that aims to improve the country’s disaster response capabilities.

James Velasquez, President and Country General Manager, IBM Philippines , Professor Clement Ong, Chairperson, Computer Technology Department, DLSU with Iris Chiu, IBM Developer Relations and Academic Initiatives Manager, IBM Philippines

Natural calamities here and around the world have highlighted the disastrous effects of such occurrences. Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009 caused major flooding, destroying infrastructure and causing significant loss of lives. Recent earthquakes that hit the country caused deaths, destruction of houses, buildings and roads, and the disruption of water and electricity supply.

According to Professor Ong, “Science has not yet developed a mechanism or a system to stop these natural disasters from occurring, however mitigating the ill effects of such is possible. Planning and foresight prior to such occurrence timely, helps to ensure a coordinated response during the emergency in terms of rescue and relief after the event.”

Government and non-government agencies are tasked with the responsibilities of developing disaster response, including:

· Coordination of rescue or relief efforts
· Assessment of damages, surveying
· Public infrastructure planning
· Soil assessment for imminent erosion
· Traffic monitoring
· Crime prevention
· Monitoring of electric lines, railroads, etc.

All of these responsibilities require good, relevant and updated information – information which can be derived from images taken from aerial vantage points.

DLSU’s project proposal was one of five ASEAN recipients from a worldwide pool of around 80 awardees. The ADARNA utilizes radio controlled helicopters instrumented with high-resolution cameras to take aerial images. The helicopters are equipped with enhanced GPS for image tagging and navigation, and will be fully or partially computer controlled for stability and flight path. Images will be sent to computers for processing to extract terrain / area features of interest.

The tailored system for disaster response allows a small team of two or three personnel to get near an area of interest, such as an area struck by an earthquake, deploy the helicopter and capture images. Images can then be reviewed immediately on computer, automatically oriented and stitched together, and a visual assessment made as to what roads may be passable for rescue and relief operations to take place. Re-imagery and reassessment can be done as needed in response to aftershocks that dynamically alter the terrain and road drivability, and the rescue/relief efforts redirected in a timely fashion.

The award is granted to researchers worldwide and awardees are nominated by an IBM employee. Criteria for recipients state that nominees must be full-time faculty who promote curriculum innovation in disciplines strategic to IBM.

“It’s very competitive and we are very fortunate to get this grant to help fund our ADARNA project,” shared Ong.

After earning the prize, the long term goal for both the university and IBM is to open up future communications between DLSU faculty and the company, introducing students to internship, career and resource possibilities, while the university is recognized as an institution that represents a top pool of talent in computer sciences.

“It gives us more exposure and it is a good form of recognition for our department and university. There’s definitely going to be future collaborations,” Ong added.

IBM is committed to foster collaboration and innovation between researchers from leading universities worldwide and those part of the IBM research, said Iris Chiu, IBM Developer Relations and Academic Initiatives Manager, IBM Philippines. This initiative aims to promote innovative courseware and curriculum development to stimulate growth in the Philippines. We are in full support of DLSU’s ADARNA project and very much open to support other innovative projects from other universities in the country.”

The monetary award is provided by IBM with no strings attached. Researchers are able to further their education and resources within their department as they see fit.

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