Autonomous flying drones will soon be drafted into disaster relief efforts to greatly improve the effectiveness of the world’s most challenging supply chains.
Establishing a supply chain in an area hit by disaster holds its own completely unique set of challenges. The speed at which the supply chain needs to be established, the unplanned nature of the event, critical safety concerns and the lack of stability in the area can all exacerbate the challenge.
Perhaps the greatest worry, though, is simply getting access to the people in need. That’s where technology can make a world of difference.
Solving the access problem
Flood events, earthquakes and other disasters can lead to an incredible amount of rubble and debris which needs to be shifted by bulldozer before aid workers can reach the people in need. It can take days before an effective path is cleared to enable trucks to begin bringing up the tonnes of supplies required to feed, house and treat those affected by disaster.
Problems with access by land are compounded when air and sea transport facilities are also damaged. We saw this in 2010, after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake (followed by over 50 aftershocks) devastated Haiti.
The disaster led to anywhere between 100,000 to 160,000 deaths and the collapse of 250,000 residential buildings. Other countries and international organisations dispatched humanitarian aid in the form of rescue teams, medical teams and engineers, but chaos at the airport caused by a damaged air traffic control tower led to some of these crucially important flights being turned away.
Helicopters would seem to be the obvious solution when planes cannot land and bulldozers haven’t yet done their work, but that’s where aid agencies come up against funding issues – even the largest of the international organisations simply can’t afford the fleet of helicopters that would be required to deliver effective immediate disaster relief on any scale.
How flying drones can save the day
Imagine an international aid agency ship mooring off the coast of a disaster-affected area, such as Peru or Japan, and acting as an aircraft carrier to deliver immediate relief to people in need. Instead of having jets or helicopters taking off from its flight deck, however, it is packed with small, autonomous robot drones.
The first drones to go out would be for the purpose of mapping and observation – they’d stay up at altitude and monitor the area, assess damage, and help direct the delivery efforts with real-time information. Soon, the sky between the ship and the disaster area would be thick with a swarm of buzzing drones; carrying food, water, clothing and medicine to victims and then flying back to the ship, resupplying, and taking off again.
A helicopter, of course, could carry human passengers and vastly more weight, but for the scale required to be effective, a fleet of autonomous drones is significantly less expensive than a fleet of helicopters. Drones are currently severely limited in the amount of weight they can carry, but capacity is expected to improve. At present they’re ideal for light-weight, high value items such as medicines or blood. They could also be used to fetch medical samples and bring them back to base for analysis. Other applications may include:
- Deliveries into conflict zones where a helicopter may be shot down
- Coordination of search and rescue activities from above
- The provision of internet to disaster zones.
Problems to be solved
There are some challenges to be overcome before drones can go into action when the next disaster inevitably hits. For example, if drones are to work in conjunction with helicopters and other aircraft, air traffic safety must be a priority to avoid mid-air collisions.
There are also some extremely negative perceptions of drones in war-torn areas, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. There, drones are either regarded as spy-craft, or as dangerous, weaponised systems capable of delivering a missile to any point on the ground. A humanitarian aid drone would therefore be met with suspicion and fear by people in need.
Similarly, a report from the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action found that humanitarian aid workers are concerned that drones are “too distant from people and inhumane”. This raises an important point about the role of aid workers, who are not only there to assist people and deliver much-needed supplies, but provide human comfort; something that a faceless drone cannot do.
Drones will soon be a common sight in disaster zones, if only in an observational or mapping role at first. While drones are unlikely to completely replace helicopters and trucks, they can play an essential role in supporting and complementing other means of delivery, particularly when access by land has not yet been established. Supply chain managers working in humanitarian aid can look forward to incorporating drones into their means of delivering assistance and, ultimately, saving lives.
In other news this week
A milestone week for Procurious
- Procurious delivered its signature event, the Big Ideas Summit, in London on Thursday last week, with speaker highlights including Oxford University’s Linda Yueh, CAPS Research Managing Director Deb Stanton, Barclay’s Chairman John McFarlane and Futurist Mark Stevenson.
- On the eve of the event, Procurious also announced that its community has grown to 20,000 supply management professionals worldwide.
- Procurious has also launched its new Corporate Site, with the first major client being the UK-based Society of Procurement Officers (SOPO).
Read more via Yahoo Finance
UC Berkeley recycles 3D printers’ plastic waste
- In response to a surge in plastic waste generated by over 100 3D printers on campus at UC Berkeley, PhD students have launched a 3D Printer Filament Reclamation Project.
- The campus-wide system takes used 3D printer plastic, grinds it up, melts it down and produces a spool of recycled plastic that can be used again in the campus’s 3D printers.
- The recycling system is expected to be replicated in businesses using 3D printers on an industrial scale to minimise, or even eliminate, waste products from the printing process.
Watch UC Berkeley’s video here
Toyota and General Motors hold top number of renewable energy patents in the US
- Research company CB Insights has analysed over 50,000 US renewable energy patent grants between 2009 and 2017 to identify the number of patents, the top patent holders, and trends in renewable energy patents.
- Over 26,000 U.S. patents related to renewable energy have been granted in the 8-year period to date, with the number peaking in 2014 at 4268. The top four areas are solar, wind, fuel cell and bio-energy.
- LG has emerged as the top patent holder in solar, GE for wind, GM and Toyota for fuel cell patents, and Xyleco and Shell for bio-energy.
Read the full report here.
[Image credit: Pixar]