Patrick Meier: An Introduction to Humanitarian UAVs – Comment by Robert Steele

Patrick Meier

Patrick Meier

An Introduction to Humanitarian UAVs and their Many Uses

Satellite images have been used to support humanitarian efforts for decades. Why? A bird’s eye view of a disaster-affected area simply captures far more information than most Earth-based data-collection technologies can. In short, birds have more situational awareness than we do. In contrast to satellites, UAVs offer significantly higher-resolution imagery, are unobstructed by clouds, can be captured more quickly, by more groups and more often at a fraction of the cost with far fewer licensing and data-sharing restrictions than satellite imagery.

Introduction to UAVs

There are basically three types of UAVs: 1) the balloon/kite variety; 2) fixed-wing UAVs; 3) rotary-wing UAVs. While my forthcoming book looks at humanitarian applications of each type, I’ll focus on fixed-wing and rotary-wing UAVs here since these are of greatest interest to humanitarian organizations. These types of UAVs differ from traditional remote control planes and helicopters because they are programmable and intelligent. UAVs can be programmed to take-off, fly and land completely autonomously, for example. They often include intelligent flight stabilization features that adapt for changing wind speeds and other weather-related conditions. They also have a number of built-in fail-safe mechanisms; some of the newer UAVs even include automated collision avoidance systems.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Click on Image to Enlarge

Fixed-wing UAVs like senseFly’s eBees (above) are launched by hand and can land a wide variety of surfaces, requiring only a few meters of landing space. They fly autonomously along pre-programmed routes and also land themselves auto-matically. My colleague Adam from senseFly recently flew eBees to support recovery efforts in the Philippines following Typhoon Yolanda. Adam is also on the Advisory Board of the Humanitarian UAV Network (UAViators). Other fixed-wing UAVs are flown manually and require an airstrip for both manual take-off and landing. Rotary-wing UAVs, in contrast, are “helicopters” with three or more propellors. Quadcopters, for example, have four propellors, like the Huginn X1 below, which my colleague Liam Dawson, another Advisory Board member, flew following Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines. One advantage of rotary-UAVs is that they take-off and land vertically. They can also hover in one fixed place and can also be programmed to fly over designated points.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Click on Image to Enlarge

Rotary-UAVs cannot glide like their fixed-wing counterparts, which means their batteries get used up fairly quickly. So they can’t stay airborne for very long (~25 minutes, 2 kilometer range, depending on the model) compared to fixed-wing UAVs like the eBee (~45 minutes, 3 kilometers). Advisory Board member Shane Coughlan is designing fixed-wing humanitarian UAVs that will have a range of several hundred kilometers. Fixed-wing UAVs, however, cannot hover in one place over time. So both types of UAVs come with their advantages and disadvantages. Most UAV experts agree that fixed-wing and rotary-wing UAVs can serve complementary purposes, however. You can quickly use a quadcopter to an initial aerial recon and then send a fixed-wing UAV for more detailed, high-resolution imagery capture.

Humanitarian Uses of UAVs

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May 1

SmartPlanet: The Open Source Business Model

smartplanet logoFreedom from shareholders: how to succeed as an open-source business

For many launching businesses in today’s fast-moving tech sector, the goal is to attract investors and shareholders, and eventually selling it all to an even larger company. One tech vendor, however, is bucking this urge, preferring instead to have a positive impact on its communities — both users and the cities in which it is locating offices. 

“A lot of companies are following that typical Silicon Valley path,” says Brian Cheung, CEO and co-founder of Liferay, Inc., a Los Angeles-based company which provides portal technology to organizations. “They’ve got their investors, and they’re aiming for that acquisition or that public offering. We’re very conscientious about not doing that. We’re still independent, privately held, with no outside capital.” The advantage to staying private is that becoming beholden to shareholders stifles innovation, he adds.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Cheung at Liferay’s recent confab in San Francisco, in which he expounded on his company’s unique philosophy toward innovation and community development. The company, which builds and distributes its software via an open-source model, is founded on the belief that innovation and growth comes from helping to make its customers and communities stronger.

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Nov 27

SmartPlanet: China in Africa, Chinese in UK…

Categories: SmartPlanet

smartplanet logoChina to invest $1 trillion in Africa through 2025

China’s massive African investment strategy won’t slow anytime soon.

The 10 most important languages to learn

Over the next two decades the United Kingdom will need to be more proficient in languages like Arabic and Mandarin or risk its competitiveness in the global economy.

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Nov 21

SmartPlant: Forward Progress — Sort Of…

Categories: SmartPlanet

smartplanet logoBy next quarter, more data than voice will be traversing U.S. mobile networks

Every day, we carry around small computers that, oh by the way, also can be used for phone calls.

U.S. government joins push for more data scientists

Three universities, two foundations and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announce multi-million-dollar initiative to boost data science Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov 19

SmartPlanet: Degrees, Thorium, Tesla Batteries

Categories: SmartPlanet

smartplanet logoWill future college degrees be based more on experience than classroom time?

Increasing signs of a movement toward granting degrees without ever setting foot in a classroom.

By Joe McKendrick

Conventional nuclear giant Areva strikes thorium deal

Agrees to research and development with $17 billion Belgian chemicals stalwart Solvay.

By Mark Halper

Tesla wants to build the world’s largest battery factory

Imagine all the lithium-ion battery production in the world — in one factory. That’s Tesla’s goal.

By Tyler Falk

In China, low-cost smartphone rivals chase Samsung

Samsung is already the largest smartphone vendor in China. But its position has been under threat from low-cost Chinese competitors.

By Kirsten Korosec

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Nov 7

SmartPlanet: Fukushima Worse Than Ever, Japan Rates a “3” in Risk Severity

smartplanet logoJapan nuclear crisis at its worst since 2011

 

Kyodo reports that 300 tons of radioactive water have leaked from a 1,000 ton tank at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. That led Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority to consider raising the incident from a Level 1 nuclear event to a Level 3 (a “serious incident” with radioactive exposure 10 times the limit for workers) on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the first time an incident has been serious enough to be reported on the INES scale. The most extreme nuclear events on the scale are considered Level 7, a level only reached by Fukushima in 2011 and Chernobyl.

The latest incident is the worst (at least, so far) of a long list of mishaps this month in the cooling system, from rats chewing through exposed wires causing a blackout of the cooling system to Tepco, the company in charge of the cleanup, failing to stop leaks of contaminated water from flowing into the Pacific Ocean. Earlier this month Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered the government to assist Tepco with the cleanup, not that it seems to be helping yet.

Read full article.

TEPCO looks for outside help to stabilize crippled Fukushima nuclear plant

Tokyo (CNN) — The operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant has said they need help from outside Japan to stabilize and safely decommission damaged reactors at the facility.

This follows the news that regulators are poised to declare a fresh toxic water leak at Fukushima a level 3 “serious incident,” the gravest warning since the massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami that sent three reactors into meltdown.

Read full article.

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Aug 22

SmartPlanet: Teacher Earns Million (in Korea); UPS Offers 3D Printing; Stock Exchange for Crowd-Funding

Categories: SmartPlanet

smartplanet logoKorea’s million dollar private teachers

You may think that a teacher could only achieve rock star status and be paid millions in some alternate universe. However, it’s really happening in South Korea – in the private sector.

UPS stores now offer 3D printing services

The UPS Store is the first nationwide retailer to offer 3D printing services. Will small businesses be interested?

Now, a ‘stock exchange’ for crowdfunding

A new exchange seeks to provide a single view of transactions across more than 500 crowdfunding sites.

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Aug 6

SmartPlanet: Sourced Products, Rating Everything, Saudi’s Spending Billions on Oil-Free Rail

Categories: SmartPlanet

smartplanet logoForget ‘fast fashion’. How about apparel with an ethical pedigree?

In Zady-land, style rules — but so does a well-edited closet, containing carefully sourced apparel.

. . . . . . .

What technology has wrought: the rise of the ‘rateocracy’

Technology may increase corporate transparency overnight, in a way that decades of laws and regulations have not been able to accomplish.

. . . . . . . .

Saudi Arabia is building a massive $22 billion metro to cut oil use

Saudi Arabia’s largest city is getting its first metro rail system in a city where only 2 percent of population uses public transportation.

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Aug 1

SmartPlanet: Open Source Tree of Life

Categories: SmartPlanet

smartplanet logoQ&A: Tiffani Williams, computer scientist, on creating an open source tree of life

By | July 29, 2013

Tiffani Williams

Tiffani Williams

The Open Tree of Life project culls years’ worth of segmented scientific research in an effort to create a current, open source version of our knowledge on thousands of plant and animal species. Tiffani Williams, a computer scientist at Texas A&M University who is working on the project, said the Open Tree of Life will eventually be a Wikipedia-like living document for scientists and the community to edit and use for research.

I spoke recently with Williams about the segmented nature of the tree of life, the challenges of the project and how an open tree of life could impact science in schools. Below are excerpts from our interview.

What is the tree of life and why should people care about it?

One way I explain the tree of life is to think about it from the human perspective. A lot of us are interested in understanding our family tree. We want to know about our grandparents and great-great grandparents and down the line. Part of that is this whole notion of where we fit in the world. Who are we? That’s certainly one aspect of a family tree. But there’s another aspect too. For example, when you go to the doctor, they’ll ask you about your family history. High blood pressure and heart disease [in your family] can be signs that you might be impacted, as well. We as human beings have this notion of appreciating our family history. All the tree of life does is take that to another level. Instead of thinking of a family in terms of your human ancestors, the tree of life is the world’s ancestry, which includes all of the world’s organisms. It’s still thought of as a family tree, but the context is a lot more broad.

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Jul 29

SmartPlanet: The world peaked in 1978

smartplanet logoThe world peaked in 1978

A new study of global wealth says prosperity peaked around 1978, and we’ve been heading downhill ever since. New Scientist reports.

Governments have tended to build economic policies around gross domestic product (GDP), the sum of all monetary transactions in an economy. GDP has risen fairly steadily — and often dramatically — since the second world war, implying the world has become more prosperous. Critics point out, however, that GDP only tells part of the story.

For a more comprehensive measure — one that accounts for social factors and environmental costs — economists started using the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). It adjusts expenditure in 26 ways to account for costs like pollution, crime and inequality, and for beneficial activities where no money changes hands, such as housework and volunteering.

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Jul 16