The Helping Drone: How Drone Technology is Being Used for Humanitarian Relief

Posted by Betsy Lillian on April 23, 2015 No Comments
Categories : Public Safety

[Editor's Note: The following is an article by Jerome Ferguson, director of autonomous systems at UPS. It has been edited and reprinted with permission of Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.]

It was like something out of a movie.

‘I watched as a drone flew in to within 10 feet of a collapsed building, gathering data, taking pictures and assessing the damage. ‘

That's the best way to describe Disaster City, Texas A&M, a 52-acre training facility where engineered train derailments, chemical spills and building collapses are part of the normal day-to-day routine for the training of emergency response professionals. In March, I watched as a drone flew to within 10 feet of a collapsed building, gathering data, taking pictures and assessing the damage.

But what looked like Hollywood was actually a real drone demonstration conducted by Dr. Robin Murphy, a professor of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M and an expert in disaster robotics. The demonstration was designed to show how drones could help save lives in the event of a real building collapse.

The American Red Cross, together with Measure, a drone consulting firm, recently shared these findings with local, state and federal emergency managers, members of Congress and the Executive Branch during an event in Washington, D.C.

As an engineer and as director of autonomous systems for UPS, I have studied drones for years, but watching the simulation made the technology less theoretical and more real. For example, what you don't see on TV or in the movies are the many safety protocols and precautions that are at play in the use of drones.

Looking forward, drones can help save lives during search-and-rescue missions. Whether used to assess a damaged building to see when and how to send in help, deliver critical aid including medicine and water, or relay Wi-Fi and cellular phone service, drones can quickly assist. When time is of the essence, drones can help define where to put resources and people – and where to prioritize.

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