Drones May Be The Next Big Thing In Disaster Relief

When you hear the word "drone" you might think of virtual drone racing and Amazon drone deliveries. But while this futuristic technology is cool, it's nothing compared to the disaster relief work that drones could carry out in the future. In fact, a 2015 study commissioned by the American Red Cross found that drones are "one of the most promising and powerful new technologies to improve disaster response and relief efforts," according to the Washington Post.

A DJI Phantom 2 with a GoPro Hero3+ is used to assess the damages in the village.

How Can Drones Help? Let Me Count The Ways

One of the biggest barriers to aid in times of emergency is access. If roads are blocked because of a natural disaster, be it a typhoon or an earthquake, a drone might be a logical delivery mechanism. In August of 2016, the drone delivery company Flirtey put this to the test, executing the first FAA-approved delivery drone drop of medical supplies to a health clinic in rural southwest Virginia. "In this area, we had 3,000 people camping out for medical care in cars, blocking single-lane roads on the way to the medical clinic," Matthew Sweeney, the CEO of Flirtey, told The Verge. Usually, supplies to this clinic are delivered via a bumpy 90-minute drive. "In circumstances with traffic congestion like this, or over rugged terrain, or in emergency scenarios like Katrina, drone delivery provides the fastest and most reliable method of delivery of emergency supplies." While this delivery wasn't a matter of life or death—that 90-minute ride is doable, if unpleasant—during a scenario like Hurricane Katrina that might not be the case. "Imagine in the event of a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy, the infrastructure, the roads are washed away and drones are a way to get around that," Sweeney told Inverse.

But drones have more to offer than just delivery. In Australia, the Red Cross is working with tech experts to investigate how drones can help with disaster assessment, not just assistance. "The positive aspect is we can try to accelerate the assessment of the disaster damage," Patrick Meier, co-founder of tech firm WeRobotics, and a part of the Red Cross project, told Australian news outlet ABC. "If we can assess faster, we can assist faster."

And what about individuals personally affected by disaster? For those displaced in times of emergency, or for whom it's too dangerous to send a human to assess damage, drones can be game changing. When an AIG client in Japan was affected by Typhoon Goni, the insurance corporation used drones to get to the root of some of the infrastructure problems. "Our client needed to determine the source of the leak quickly, but it was too dangerous for anyone to venture onto the roof to perform an inspection," AIG writes. "We knew it was important to act fast to protect our client's property and give them the financial support they needed to recover from the typhoon. We used a drone to help locate the source of the leak. By flying the drone over the factory rooftop, our team identified the cause of the damage quickly, safely, and accurately."

Related: The Teal Drone Is The Fastest, Smartest Consumer Drone Ever

What's Next?

Regular old drone deliveries are still not approved in the U.S., and medical deliveries are being approved on a case-by-case basis, but that doesn't mean there aren't advancements happening every day in the world of drone tech and disaster relief. In March of 2017, Land Rover unveiled the "Project Hero" model of their Discovery at the Geneva Motor Show. The vehicle is designed for use by the Red Cross and it comes with a "roof-mounted drone and a landing system with self-centring [sic] and magnetic retention technology that lets the drone land on Project Hero when the vehicle is moving," according to WIRED. "As the drone flies, live footage is transmitted to the Red Cross's emergency response teams, helping them respond to landslides, earthquakes, floods and avalanches."

The future of drones is exciting and curious, sure (who doesn't want to have their pizza flown to them by a drone?), but at its best, the technology could help humanity in ways we can't even imagine.

Required FTC Disclaimer:

This article is the product of a partnership between Curiosity and member companies of American International Group, Inc. ("AIG"). Although this post is sponsored, the information and opinions expressed in the article constitute the opinions of our editorial staff. This article does not suggest a partnership or affiliation between AIG and any other company referenced.

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Written by Curiosity Staff May 12, 2017

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