Robots to the Rescue

The thought of a piece of robotic-looking scrap metal the size of a dinner plate approaching you over the horizon is not the most comforting – unless you are in need of its assistance in an emergency or humanitarian disaster. In the past few years, drones have been quickly entering the emergency response and aid industries creating a positive impact in the world of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

Can a Little Robot Really Make a Difference?

Compact, versatile, and capable. Many of these drones are able to reach places both high and low, that might prove untouchable for disaster relief teams. Whether it’s surveying an affected area that has been damaged by a disaster or flying medications and vaccinations to a rural village that has become isolated by monsoon flood waters, a drone has you covered.  

Who are the Main Players?

“Others use drones – We create custom aerial solutions” -Easy Aerial 

More and more organizations keep popping up in an effort to combat disaster relief and developmental challenges through the use of drones. Easy Aerial, SkyEye in the Philippines, CartONG in Haiti, DroneAdventures, Medair, and WeRobotics, just to name a few, are the creative minds leading this revolution.

Easy Aerial has a quiver of drones that serve all purposes, not to mention the impressive R&D that’s taking place behind closed doors at their HQ in Brooklyn, NY. Their impressive team with founder, Ivan Stamatovski, and co-founder, Ido Gur, manning the ship, offers services such as Unmanned Security and Search and Rescue. This aligns with Easy Aerial’s mission to “Create custom aerial solutions.”

Unmanned Security. Whether it be setting up a refugee camp or facilitating humanitarian development, many of the materials used in these processes can be valuable and costly to replace. Ensuring that materials don’t get tampered with is vital in carrying out a sustainable operation. A UAV could provide real-time surveillance, pushing whatever the project is to remain safe and successful.

At the forefront of disaster relief is search and rescue. RemoteDroneService and SearchHelper are two drone services under Easy Aerial’s umbrella of Search and Rescue that make drone usage in the waking hours after a disaster a reality. RemoteDroneService is based on Easy Aerial’s global ARC system, enabling drone control from a remote location using cellular or satellite communication. These drones can be launched anywhere in the world in under a minute, ensuring a speedy rescue.

SkyEye is partnered with a variety of NGO’s including World Vision and OCHA, in efforts to provide complete aerial surveillance when disaster strikes. The aerial footage provided by these drones not only offers superior quality in comparison to satellite images and footage, but also allows local aide groups in the Philippines to steer these drones. This combines local knowledge of an area with the locations suffering the most damage, catalyzing the best relief strategy for an effected area. The result is a proactive environment where locals can respond to a disaster while it’s unraveling rather than waiting for a third party to come to the rescue. Efficiency is the name of the game when it comes to these drones.

In Haiti CartONG is taking a more preemptive approach while still using the drones’ mapping capabilities. This NGO is mapping radio stations, finding locations for new stations and ensuring the working order of preexisting stations. Haitians living in rural communities rely heavily on these stations in order to receive pertinent information such as news of an emergency.

While using the mapping technology, groups and companies such as DroneAdventures, Medair, and WeRobotics also provide medical services in the forms of air drops. This service is where the humanitarian sector can see the greatest gains. Imagine you’re living in a rural area where there is only one manageable road taking you into the nearest developed town or city. This road gets washed away in a monsoon. This previously 45-minute drive into said city now takes 7 hours by foot via a precarious mountain route. How are you supposed to reach medical assistance in this isolated setting? Drone’s remedy this situation. Not only can they reach this location in much more timely manner than on foot, but they can also fly more efficiently than a car driving to this hypothetical location. Carrying up to 1 kilo at time which is equal to 40,000 aspirin pills, drone disaster relief is the answer.

Teach a Person How to Fish

“This is the most interdependent age in human history. Building local capacity must always be a major focus.”

“Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” This concept is now being applied to drone usage for locals facing natural disasters or emergencies.  As Bill Clinton said in his most recent address at the InterAction convention, “This is the most interdependent age in human history. Building local capacity must always be a major focus.” WeRobotics’ Ted Meier is doing just that. This not-for-profit is setting up a global network of Flying Labs. The idea is to “democratize the use of robotics,” according to Meier. These Flying Labs are designed to bring communities in high-risk areas together, teaching them the capabilities behind these drones, while also ensuring they understand the operational knowledge behind piloting these drones. Handing over this tool and service into the arms of people with local knowledge will only increase e the efficiency and effectiveness of this technology and service.

Where does the Future Lie?

While these drones have proven to be incredibly successful in times of need, it’s time to think big picture. Can we increase the load-bearing capacity of these drones so as to move beyond aerial mapping and medical transportations? How do we improve the range of these drones while making them affordable and drivable for local stakeholders? The opportunities are endless and with these drones setting out on more and more missions to aid the lives of disaster victims, it is exciting to see how these companies and NGOs will continue to innovate towards improving emergency and disaster relief efficiency .


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