OCT 30, 2017 12:15 PM PDT

Relief Drones to the Rescue

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

When disasters make it difficult and dangerous for people to survey and explore hard-hit areas, drones can save lives. These unmanned aerial vehicles are increasingly being designed and tested for disaster relief. Many were utilized during the fall 2017 U.S. hurricane season.

“Finding people and finding them rapidly [after a natural disaster] is very important, and there’s a caveat in there … when you have no communications and no power. That’s when drones become an absolutely life-saving asset,” says Amna Greaves of the MIT Lincoln Laboratory Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Systems Group.

drone and Hurricane Irma, credit: public domain images (Wikimedia)

What Do Relief Drones Do?

Relief drones convey real-time disaster information to relief agencies and aid to victims. For example, Greaves and her team are working with Homeland Security to develop drones that trace cell signals and aid in search-and-rescue relief efforts.

Meanwhile, the William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine has developed a “telemedicine drone,” which can deliver a medical kit to patients in hard-to-reach areas after a natural disaster. The kit can contain bandages, vaccines or a defibrillator. It also includes Google Glass to connect a caregiver on the ground with a physician who can instruct them remotely. The person on the scene can “put on the glasses [and] get some information from a real doctor on how to supply the contents of the kit … ” explains Greaves.

French technology company Parrot, known for its recreational quadcopters, has produced a new Bebop Pro Thermal drone that may be a life-saver in emergencies. It can track hot spots such as body heat and feed a live image to an app. As well as being useful in rescue operations, it can aid public safety, construction and inspection workers in evaluating where heat escapes buildings or which areas of a structure are still hot after a fire. Parrot previously implemented its drones to help Fire and Emergency crews monitor flood levels in Paris in 2016.

The American Red Cross is also getting in on the relief-drone-action. They piloted a Cyphy drone to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey. UPS funded the program and is a Cyphy stakeholder. UPS has also piloted drones as delivery agents for emergency medical supplies.

Johns Hopkins University is testing drones for medical applications as well -- in Sept. 2017, researchers completed the longest medical drone delivery flight on record. Their drone flew blood samples 161 miles across the Arizona desert in three hours.

Parrot Bebop drone, credit: Parrot public Facebook photo

What Challenges to Relief Drones Face?

For drones to be helpful during and directly after natural disasters, they need to be pretty hardy. As drones evolve to have lighter and more powerful engines and sturdier exoskeletons, they are more useful in these potentially windy and wet situations. “It’s at the point now where they’re not necessarily water resistant, but they’re not going to fall out of the sky if they get a little wet,” says photojournalist and storm-chaser Brian Emfinger, who documented Harvey and Irma.

As is common with newer technologies, government regulations are still catching up to and adapting to drone innovations. Drones are restricted by numerous Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules, but the agency has been supportive of their use in recent crises. The FAA issued hundreds of temporary airspace authorizations for drones involved in reconnaissance, search and rescue missions during recovery operations for Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. Many of these were deployed by electric, communications and insurance companies evaluating damage to infrastructure.

On Oct. 25, 2017, the White House announced that the Department of Transportation will be creating an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program, which will call on state, local, and tribal government representatives to help develop new federal drone regulations. White House adviser Michael Kratsios told reporters the “program will open the skies for delivery of life-saving medicines and commercial packages, inspections of critical infrastructure, and support for emergency management operations.”

 

Sources:

http://to.pbs.org/2y7qFjr

http://reut.rs/2y7t0uO

 

About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech, conservation and the arts. She enjoys solutions journalism. Find more of her work at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.
You May Also Like
NOV 17, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 17, 2019
Hayabusa-2 Departs Ryugu Asteroid to Return to Earth with Samples
It’s been just over a year since JAXA’s renowned Hayabusa-2 mission arrived at asteroid 162173 Ryugu to study the dynamics of the distant space...
DEC 22, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
DEC 22, 2019
Can Google Health's AI interpret X-rays as well as radiologists?
Patients presenting with severe coughs, chest pain or suspected infections are more than likely to be sent for a chest X-ray -- the most commonly taken med...
JAN 12, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 12, 2020
The Core Stage of NASA's SLS Rocket is On the Move
Artemis is a bold new mission by NASA to push humanity forward in its ongoing quest to achieve long-term deep space travel. Artemis will begin by utilizing...
JAN 16, 2020
Neuroscience
JAN 16, 2020
New Wearable that Helps the Body Adapt to Stress
Physicians and neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh have developed Apollo- a wearable they claim helps the body adapt to stress, improve sleep q...
JAN 23, 2020
Technology
JAN 23, 2020
New Stretchable Battery
Electronics are everywhere on our laps, in pockets and purses and, know they are slowly sneaking up our clothes and skin. The adoption of wearable electron...
FEB 17, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
FEB 17, 2020
Graphene, the Toughest 2-D Material
An allotrope of carbon, graphene is a two-dimensional (2D) sheet of a nearly endless hexagonal network. In many of the studies conducted on this Nobel-winn...
Loading Comments...