News In Brief

New head of history department named

Professor of history Donna Harsch has been selected to succeed Caroline Acker as head of Carnegie Mellon’s history department.

“Professor Harsch will be an excellent successor to Caroline Acker, who did a terrific job of quite selflessly leading the department for the last four years of her career at Carnegie Mellon,” said Richard Scheines, dean of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, in a university press release.

Harsch is a social and political historian of modern Germany, and “she has proved to be a versatile and wide-ranging scholar of the 20th century,” said Scheines in the press release, adding that he is “excited to work with her.” Harsch joined the faculty at Carnegie Mellon in 1990.

Harsch’s goals as department head include “to continue the department’s focus on social, cultural, and policy history, its strongly global scholarly orientation, and its inclusion of interdisciplinary methodologies, especially anthropology,” according to the news release. She also hopes to encourage interdepartmental collaboration among Dietrich faculty and to increase the history department’s international exposure.

“It’s an exciting time for the History Department,” said Harsch in the release. “As we continue to shape our research profile, there is [an] opportunity to revamp our policy work and bring the department together through shared interests such as social movements, resistance to inequalities and resisting the powers that be.”

Former head Acker has held the position since 2011 and plans to retire. The transition will be effective beginning July 1.

Robotics Institute develops new quadrotor

A small quadrotor developed by Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, in conjunction with spin-off company Sensible Machines, demonstrated its potential to aid firefighting efforts in confined naval spaces.

The demonstration was held aboard a former U.S. Navy ship as part of the Office of Naval Research (ONR)’s Damage Control Technologies for the 21st Century (DC-21) project. In the demonstration, the quadrotor “flew autonomously through dark, smoke-filled compartments to map fires and locate victims,” according to a university press release. “With the micro-flyer, we wanted to show that it could autonomously navigate through the narrow hallways and doors — even in dense fire smoke — and locate fires,” said DC-21 program manager Thomas McKenna, according to the press release. “It succeeded at all those tasks.”

The drone has the capability of “fast lightweight autonomy,” and it uses a RGB-D camera, or depth camera, as its primary sensor for use in building a map of fire areas.

In addition to its utility in managing shipboard fires, the drone will also assist “investigation of building fires and inspection of hazardous chemical tanks and power plant cooling towers,” according to Sebastian Scherer, systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, in the press release.