Saving The World, One Drone At A Time
The drone industry is set to be worth $2.07 billion by 2022. With Amazon making their first drone delivery and camera drones being used as an aerial photography tool, the technology has become commonplace in our everyday lives. Although the original development of drones was for military use to spy on enemy territory and to fire missiles, new revolutionary uses may mean that the technology could be used not only to destroy the world but also to save it.
In countries where practical issues get in the way of access and delivery of aid, using drones could be the innovation that could bring these villages back in touch with the world, and get them the lifesaving help and resources they need. UNICEF have been forward thinking in testing drones to assist their humanitarian efforts in three main areas:
During natural disasters such as earthquakes or floods, often mobile phone masts are destroyed. Due to the capacity of so many people making calls in emergency situations, it can mean that the ability to make contact with the outside world goes down in the time it is needed most.
Mobile network company EE has created a fleet of drones that will allow mobile signals to be beamed into the area below, allowing the affected communities to make calls and access the internet. UNICEF are trialling using this technology during humanitarian crises, and if these drones work, they could provide a lifeline to so many people who need to request help at the most crucial time.
Generating images during humanitarian crises and natural disasters has always been done through aerial photographs from planes or satellites. Unfortunately, this technique only produces a bird’s eye view looking down on the area, meaning a lot of ground level damage is often left unseen. The aftermath of the Vanuatu cyclone in 2015 was one of the first natural disasters where drones were used by UNICEF to assess the damage left behind. Drone control meant that different angles could be seen, such as the scale of damage on the sides of houses, providing a more in-depth image to determine the funding and recovery efforts needed.
Early detection of HIV is vital. However, in areas where access to healthcare is limited, the testing procedure for the virus can often take up to 11 days from test to result. During UNICEF drone test runs in Malawi, newborn babies’ blood samples were easily transported via drone for HIV testing.
During the trial run of this method last March, the six-mile trip from a health clinic in Lilongwe to the Kamuzu Central Hospital Laboratory, which can take up to several days by motorbike, took the drone around 20 minutes. The longer the delay between test and results, the harder HIV is to treat, so this type of speed could be vital in making sure babies get the best start to life and treatment as soon as possible.
UNICEF is currently working again with the government of The Republic of Vanuatu on a groundbreaking drone project in the hope it will save lives. With some Pacific communities being inaccessible by road, it is common for medical centres to run out of supplies, often with serious consequences.
A new drone trial for measles vaccine delivery starts this month (June 2017). It is very important that the trials make sure that the vaccines are carried safely by the drone, kept cool, and delivered in working order. If these tests prove successful, measles vaccines will be delivered on a large scale to three remote locations starting early 2018 and it will be a huge step in making sure all children across the world get the vaccinations and medical care they need.
For all drone technology started its life in a war zone for violence, the use of this technology could provide the answer to overcoming the many hurdles facing the people and countries who are most in need around the world.