Tag Archives: Autonomous

Towards Persistent Humanitarian Robotics

Aerial robots (or UAVs) represent the first wave of robotics to impact the humanitarian space. Thus far, this first wave has largely been characterized by the application of relatively new technologies in one-off deployments. This needs to change. We must shift towards more persistent and autonomous solutions. This applies equally to the use of aerial robots for data collection as it does to the use of said robots for the transportation of payloads.

By “persistent” I mean UAV platforms that are far more durable and robust. It is all fine and well to fly a UAV a few dozen times in favorable weather. That’s elementary. It is far less trivial to develop UAVs that can successfully operate for thousands of flight hours in unfavorable weather conditions. By “autonomous” I mean UAV platforms that are pre-programmed and equipped with collision avoidance technology. This allows the platforms to operate autonomously with less need for human intervention. The real revolution around robotics in general is not robotics per se but rather robotics-powered-by-artificial-intelligence, which increasingly allows mobile robots to operate autonomously. In contrast, the manual operation of UAVs very much limits the value they can add to humanitarian efforts. What’s more, the leading cause of accidents in both manned and unmanned aviation is attributable to pilot error.

Humanitarian organizations exploring the use of aerial robotics should make sure to raise questions around persistent and autonomous solutions in their discussions with UAV partners. This second wave of robotics is at most a ripple at the moment, so it is important to manage expectations. But this next wave is also inevitable. So the sooner humanitarian organizations start addressing the importance of both persistent and autonomous solutions, the earlier we can scale the positive impact of aerial, terrestrial and maritime robotics across a wide range of humanitarian efforts.

How to Program UAV Flights for Humanitarian Missions

UAVs are increasingly being flown autonomously rather than manually. But how does this actually work? In this blog post, I seek to “demystify” the process of programming UAV flights. While a number of platforms exist to program UAVs, they largely resemble each other. So I used the eMotion software that comes with senseFly’s eBee UAV to provide the demo below, which is actually based on a real humanitarian mission in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan. Please be sure to read the Humanitarian UAV Network’s Code of Conduct and Operational Check List before programming any UAV flights for humanitarian missions.

This demo is for simple flights only. If you’re flying near hills or mountains, for example, you’ll need to upload elevation data. I’ll provide a demo on how to program more complicated flights in the future. Of course, humanitarian UAV missions don’t end with the landing. The imagery needs to be analyzed and translated into information products to support decision-making. This requires using image processing platforms like Pix4D and PhotoScan. I’ll provide a demo on this in the future. In the meantime, if you’ve captured aerial videos or pictures of disaster areas, the easiest way to share them with humanitarian organizations and others is by posting them on the Humanitarian UAV Network’s Crisis Map. You can also partner with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap and MicroMappers to crowdsource the analysis of aerial imagery. These groups can be contacted via the Digital Humanitarian Network.



See Also:

  • Official UN Policy Brief on Humanitarian UAVs [link]
  • Humanitarian UAV Network: Strategy for 2014-2015 [link]
  • Common Misconceptions About Humanitarian UAVs [link]
  • Reflections on the Use of UAVs in Humanitarian Interventions [link]
  • Humanitarians in the Sky: Using UAVs for Disaster Response [link]
  • Google Already Developing UAV’s for Disaster Response [link]
  • WHO Using UAVs to Transport Medical Supplies [link]