Announcing the Dig IT Award finalists: Robotics, automation and UAS

Whether it’s meeting new technology challenges or taking the tedium or danger out of government operations, agencies are using automation to deliver services faster.

The GCN Dig IT Awards celebrate discovery and innovation in government IT -- the cutting-edge technology and creative implementations that are supporting critical missions at all levels of the public sector. Today we are pleased to announce the finalists in our fifth category: Robotics, Automation and Unmanned Aerial Systems.

GCN Dig IT Award Finalists

Big Data, Analytics and Visualization
(announced Aug. 18)

Cloud and Infrastructure
(announced Aug. 19)

Cybersecurity
(announced Aug. 22)

Mobile
(announced Aug. 23)

Robotics, Automation and UAS
(announced Aug. 24)

Other/Editor’s Choice
(announced Aug. 25)

Full list of 2016 Dig IT Award Nominees

The projects below, along with the finalists in five other categories, will be profiled in the coming weeks in GCN and on GCN.com and honored in person at the GCN Dig IT Awards Gala on Oct. 13 at the Ritz Carlton in Tysons Corner, Va. The overall winner in each category, as selected by our judging panel of top government IT innovators, will be announced at the Oct. 13 gala.

Finalists for the first four categories can be found via the links at the right; and a final batch of "Editor's Choice" finalists will be announced tomorrow. Today, however, GCN's congratulations are focused on the six Dig IT Award finalists for Robotics, Automation and UAS:

Automated Radio Testing
City of Los Angeles Information Technology Agency
Robotics can spark visions of science fiction, but big payoffs can come from automating the mundane maintenance tasks of government. Los Angeles' Information Technology Agency, for example, must test and maintain some 14,000 handheld radios used by first responders and other city employees. It's critical but tedious and time-consuming work, so the agency developed a robot with computer vision to automate the entire testing process. Radios are picked up, loaded into the testing dock, tested and placed into either a "test-passed" or a "test-failed" area -- allowing the city to spot and fix problems before a device fails in the field.

FAA Small Unmanned Aircraft System Registration Website
Federal Aviation Administration
As the number of drones in private hands has exploded, the challenges of ensuring safety in the public airspace have multiplied as well. In October 2015, the FAA announced plans to register small UAS -- and successfully rolled out a system for doing so just two months later. The cloud-based, API-driven website was built using open source components and with an eye toward incorporating additional functionality in the future. More than a half-million drones have been registered to date, and the scalable system can handle 200,000 concurrent users and 800,000 registrations registration requests in a single hour.

Process Robotics
Multiple Federal Agencies
Even the most advanced government operations involve tedious and repetitive processes. The federal government is exploring process robotics for defense, homeland security, health and other missions through proof-of-concept prototypes at five different agencies. These prototypes are rapidly scalable to automate time-consuming manual processes, freeing up staff time for other mission-critical responsibilities. In one particular instance, a federal health organization is exploring the automation of a disease proficiency testing process that involves scores of manual steps related to data capture, archiving, analysis, confirmation, and reporting. This pilot has, in a testing environment, automated a majority of those tasks -- executing them far faster and with fewer errors than humans typically produce.

Deploying Drones for Bridge Inspections
Minnesota Department of Transportation
Bridge inspections are essential to ensuring public safety, but they can be expensive, disruptive to drivers and dangerous for the inspectors. Minnesota's Department of Transportation decided to experiment with drones to address those downsides, while deploying a wide range of imaging technologies to improve the quality of bridge inspections themselves. After two phases of test inspections and the creation of a best practices document drawing on that experience, MnDOT is now working toward a statewide UAS bridge inspection contract.

Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System Program
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
"Sense and avoid" technologies are seen as key to safely integrating advanced drones into U.S. airspace, but those capabilities can help human-piloted aircraft as well. DARPA's Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System, or ALIAS, is a shoebox-sized solution that uses cameras and passive ranging features to detect approaching aircraft and determine the best avoidance strategy. Successfully tested but still in the early development stages, ALIAS aims for a plug-and-play solution that can automate lower-level flight maintenance tasks that now require pilots' constant vigilance.

SkyTracker Drone Detection System
Federal Aviation Administration
An unauthorized UAS can wreak havoc near an airport, so the FAA is testing some customized systems to detect such drones and help operators quickly pre-empt a problematic situation. Working with the Department of Homeland Security and the University of Maryland, the FAA early this year tested a system of strategically located radio frequency sensors to detect common UAS frequencies and triangulate the location of both the device and the operator -- without disrupting airport communications systems.

Editor's note: This article was changed Aug. 25 to clarify details of the CDC's robotics pilot and on Aug. 26 to clarify details of the SkyTracker system.

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