Technology Against Tornado (TaT) Student Competition and Expo
IEEE Computer Society Team
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In a matter of minutes, a tornado can take lives, destroy properties, and disrupt businesses. Those affected face a long recovery. However, technology can help battle tornadoes’ devastating consequences. To empower communities and to inspire student innovation, Saman Sargolzaei, assistant professor of engineering at the University of Tennessee at Martin, created the Technology against Tornado (TaT) Student Competition and Expo.
Made possible by the IEEE Computer Society’s Emerging Technology Fund and hosted by the University of Tennessee at Martin, TaT 2023 served as a one-day summit of competition, expo, and activities full of creativity and innovation, encouraging students to transform their ideas into real-world, functional products. Taking place 21 April 2023, TaT brought together more than 70 stakeholders and students to support the development of new technologies, greater awareness of technology use, and the creation of plans to better prepare and recover in the event of a tornado.
The summit also introduced a variety of guest speakers, including scientists, tornado survivors, first responders, and community representatives. Presentations focused on how to detect and identify non-descending tornadogenesis–when a tornado builds from the ground up–and what the warning implications are for these particular events. In addition, sessions offered insights from tornado survivors, an overview of the work of emergency responders in managing a tornado’s aftermath, and efforts toward long-term disaster recovery to set the stage for potential technological solutions. Key takeaways from these presentations included the role of emerging technologies to understand tornadoes, current and future roles for technology development, and the diversity of existing resources for the community.
“The timing of TaT was perfect for our community, as we were greatly affected by a December 2021 tornado. Providing information, resources, and networking opportunities at this event greatly benefitted attendees,” said Sargolzaei.
The TaT 2023 Student Competition and Expo also hosted high school and college students in a competition yielding two finalist teams. Westview High School rose in the high school category with a proposal to introduce 3-D-printed search-and-rescue robots equipped with thermal cameras to support emergency responders in identifying and rescuing trapped individuals. In the college/university category, the finalist team from the University of Memphis detailed ways to leverage machine learning to better predict tornado events. In addition, organizations, including the American Red Cross, National Weather Service, Martin Volunteer Hospital, and UTM Student Chapter of American Meteorology Society participated in the expo.
Overall, participants cited the benefits of the relayed information, the enthusiasm of student teams, and the comprehensive resources shared at the event. In the words of one attendee, “I am grateful to have been included in such a well-organized and marketed event for our community. The topics of discussion were in perfect order. Attendees should have a better understanding of a tornado and its impact from the formation of a funnel cloud to the importance of long-term recovery. I look forward to witnessing the event become larger in the future.”
Project leaders reiterated the success of the event. “Our organizing committee tirelessly and constantly worked on making the TaT ‘23 event possible, and we thank them for their interest and enthusiasm,” said Sargolzaei. “We had many requests to expand the event and make it annual. So, we’re actively looking to make the event happen again.”
For more information on Emerging Technology Fund grants and programs, visit computer.org.