Humanitarian organizations like the UN and Red Cross often face a deluge of social media data when disasters strike areas with a large digital footprint. This explains why my team and I have been working on AIDR (Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response), a free and open source platform to automatically classify tweets in real-time. Given that the vast majority of the world’s population does not tweet, we’ve teamed up with UNICEF’s Innovation Team to extend our AIDR platform so users can also automatically classify streaming SMS.
After the Haiti Earthquake in 2010, the main mobile network operator there (Digicel) offered to sent an SMS to each of their 1.4 million subscribers (at the time) to accelerate our disaster needs assessment efforts. We politely declined since we didn’t have any automated (or even semi-automated way) of analyzing incoming text messages. With AIDR, however, we should (theoretically) be able to classify some 1.8 million SMS’s (and tweets) per hour. Enabling humanitarian organizations to make sense of “Big Data” generated by affected communities is obviously key for two-way communication with said communities during disasters, hence our work at QCRI on “Computing for Good”.
AIDR/SMS applications are certainly not limited to disaster response. In fact, we plan to pilot the AIDR/SMS platform for a public health project with our UNICEF partners in Zambia next month and with other partners in early 2015. While still experimental, I hope the platform will eventually be robust enough for use in response to major disasters; allowing humanitarian organizations to poll affected communities and to make sense of resulting needs in near real-time, for example. Millions of text messages could be automatically classified according to the Cluster System, for example, and the results communicated back to local communities via community radio stations, as described here.
These are still very early days, of course, but I’m typically an eternal optimist, so I hope that our research and pilots do show promising results. Either way, we’ll be sure to share the full outcome of said pilots publicly so that others can benefit from our work and findings. In the meantime, if your organization is interested in piloting and learning with us, then feel free to get in touch.
Update: DHL to deliver medicine via UAV [link]
The World Health Organization (WHO) is experimenting with Matternet’s new quadcopters (one of which is pictured below) to transport medical supplies to remote regions in Bhutan. The country lies in the Himalayas, which makes access to public health particularly challenging for rural communities. Reaching these remote mountain populations in a timely and affordable way is key. This explains why WHO is looking into UAVs.
Matternet is “aiming to build a network of low-cost quadcopters to connect the country’s main hospitals with rural communities.” The team “uses small quad- copters that can carry loads of about four pounds across 20 km at a time, to and from pre-designated landing stations. The company is able to track these flights in real-time, and aims to eventually deploy fully-automated landing stations that replace drone batteries, giving them extended range and flight time. The drones it uses typically cost between $2,000-5,000.”
WHO is not the only international humanitarian organization exploring the use of UAVs for the transportation of small payloads. Colleagues at UNICEF and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are actively exploring this use-case as well with the latter in early pilot stages with Matternet in Papua New Guinea.
UAVs can also be used in other ways to support public health projects. Take my UAV colleagues in the Philippines who are collaborating with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on a food security problem with obvious linkages to public health. Typhoon Haiyan uprooted millions of coconut trees when it barreled through the country. Many of these trees have since been rotting, which is now leading to a Rhinocerous Beetle infestation that can wipe out the entire coconut industry—a very important source of livelihood for many in the country. Meanwhile, other colleagues in Pakistan are looking into using UAVs “to identify and exterminate dengue larvae” as part of an existing intervention that uses smart phones to promote mosquito mitigation efforts.
- Humanitarian UAV Network: Strategy for 2014-2015 [link]
- Humanitarians in the Sky: Using UAVs for Disaster Response [link]
- Crisis Map of UAV Videos for Disaster Response [link]
- Humanitarian UAV Missions During Balkan Floods [link]
- “TripAdvisor” for International UAV/Drone Travel [link]
- UAVs, Community Mapping & Disaster Risk Reduction in Haiti [link]