Are UAVs the next game-changer in development?

We’ve heard about drone use for delivering commerce faster. Take Amazon’s Prime Air, for instance. It’s a future delivery system which will allow the electronic commerce company to safely deliver packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using UAVs.

We are aware of their applications for defense. Now, development agencies have begun using drones for humanitarian responses, specifically for data collection. Drones can rapidly produce geo-references (GPS accurate) or 3D maps that are often more detailed and faster than satellite imagery. This mapping enables improved logistics, damage assessments, disaster risk reduction, and a quick overview of the condition of a community. We are also exploring drones to transport samples and test infants for HIV faster.  

In order to promote the safe use of drones for data collection, the Humanitarian UAV Network created a community of development and humanitarian practitioners to share guidelines and best practices about the use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones) for humanitarian purposes.

Let’s take a closer look at cases of UAVs being used in development:

UNICEF’s UAV study in Malawi
On 14 March 2016, the Government of Malawi and UNICEF tested how using UAVs could reduce the time it takes to test infants for HIV. The test, which used simulated samples (no human blood), will have the potential to cut waiting times dramatically, and if successful, will be integrated into the health system alongside others mechanisms such as road transport and SMS.

The first successful test flight completed the 10km route unhindered, traveling from a community health centre to the Kamuzu Central Hospital laboratory.  Residents watched as the vehicle took off and flew away in the direction of the hospital. The test flights are also assessing viability including cost and safety.Read more about it here:  

Drone Adventures:
DA, a non-profit organization founded in Lausanne, Switzerland in March 2013, believes that drones are a powerful tool that can be used to make the world a better place. In April 2013, Drone Adventures, in collaboration with the International Organization of Migration and OpenStreetMaps, travelled to Haiti to demonstrate the effectiveness of drone technology in humanitarian aid. For their mission, they took senseFly eBee drones along with other equipment and spent 10 days in Haiti using drones to create high resolution 3D maps. Check out their experience here.

Using drones for damage assessment in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan
After Typhoon Haiyan devastated the city of Tacloban in the Philippines, a group of private sector firms and NetHope brought a small UAV as part of a pilot project to to identify where to set up a base of operations and to verify if roads where accessible. This task would have taken days if done on foot or by helicopter. Instead, the UAV was flown up the coast to evaluate damage from the storm and flooding to identify the villages that had been affected.

The aerial assessments helped respond faster and pinpoint the areas that needed the most assistance. It is suggested that if the UAV would have arrived 72 hours after the typhoon, the UAV might have located survivors in the rubble using infrared cameras faster.

Droneport in Rwanda:
In September 2015, Foster and Partners, a British international studio for architecture and integrated design, unveiled designs for a drone port in Rwanda, which will be used to to support cargo drone routes capable of delivering urgent urgent medical supplies to remote parts of the East African country via drones.

With the use of drones, even the most marginalized and hard to reach communities will have access to these services. The pilot project is set to start this year in partnership with Afrotech, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL); the Norman Foster Foundation. It’s estimated the project will be completed by 2020.

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