Recently there have been a number of articles written that have been exceedingly inspiring to us here at UAS Professionals about the ability for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to help with humanitarian efforts around the world. Because UAS are still such a new concept to our society, each week we see many new and creative uses for these unmanned aircraft. What’s most encouraging is that these new applications are not just commercially-based, but often aim to truly better our planet.
Although the world’s first introduction to UAS is that of military use, they have immense peacetime potential to do good. Matternet, a California based start-up, builds UAS that allow aid groups all around the world to bring supplies and food to difficult to reach crisis areas or disaster zones. This is exceedingly important in the humanitarian (NGO) space because locations that need relief are often too dangerous to access due to the political landscape or destruction from natural disasters.
Possible applications with UAS are delivery of supplies, mapping areas after disasters, reducing poaching and much more. UAS were used after the Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines to survey the damage in almost real time; enabling aid workers to select the best places to set up field hospitals and locate people in need of rescue.
In 2014, UAS were used in Fukushima, Japan after a nuclear power plant was affected by an earthquake to obtain real time radiation readings for scientists and civilians about the nuclear levels in the area. Kenya is set to deploy UAS to all of their national parks in order to monitor wildlife, as well as to spot poachers before they have the ability to kill. The EPA has been using UAS to monitor air quality and surveil other issues – such as illegal dumping. UAViators is an online network connecting certified drone pilots to humanitarian support efforts worldwide. Founded by Patrick Meier, the organization’s ultimate goal is to bring together qualified, and certified, volunteer pilots around the world to achieve a global response network to disasters and crises with nearly zero lag time. They can accomplish this by using one of their nine teams to provide timely aerial imagery and alternative transportation options.
A broad scope of what they can do is:
- Rapid assessment of disaster damage to building infrastructure and power lines and other electricity infrastructure
- Identify usable roads and transportation infrastructure and areas for humanitarians to set up base camp
- Aerial support for road clearance activities
- Estimate population displacement
- Identify temporary shelters, best locations to set up new temporary shelters and whether radio transmitters/comms on the ground still work
- Survey impact of disaster on agriculture, farmland
- Search and Rescue
Here is an example from a training exercise from the Shadow Foundation using first aid kits transported via UAS and practice use on dummies.
Here is an example of a video a member of the network shot surveying the damage to Napa after their earthquake in 2014.
UAViators also organized the first ever Humanitarian UAV Policy Forum this July. Participants from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), World Food Program (WFP), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), European Union Humanitarian Aid Organization (ECHO), the American Red Cross, and key universities and experts attended the 3-day forum. The agenda discussed at the Forum is available here. There will also be a Webinar post-Forum to discuss the main outcomes of the meeting. If you are interested in becoming involved in using your drone skills to help humanitarian efforts, check out their site.
The future of UAS is always encouraging and fascinating. Here at UAS Professionals, our goal is to help propel this industry forward to achieve ever greater heights. We are excited about the possibilities that each new idea provides to better the world in the years to come, and pledge to do everything we can to support these new endeavors.