As flooding from ex-tropical cyclone Debbie continues to lash parts of Queensland and New South Wales, a new research project is examining how drones can help in disaster recovery.
The Australian Red Cross has teamed up with tech experts to run the project, which aims to not only drop aid packages to isolated areas but also assess disaster impacts to co-ordinate traditional emergency responses.
Stanford University fellow and co-founder of tech firm WeRobotics, Patrick Meier, has joined the project and said the benefits to using drones was clear.
The project addresses key areas:
- Can drones provide data from remote locations?
- Can drones get aid to locations quickly and efficiently?
- Can drones cover the wide areas needed?
- What are the regulatory requirements in airspace?
- What are community attitudes to the use of drones?
“The positive aspect is we can try to accelerate the assessment of the disaster damage,” he told ABC News Breakfast.
“If we can assess faster, we can assist faster.
“This is not supposed to replace existing, traditional mechanisms, it’s supposed to augment and complement.”
Dr Meier said the technology could have direct application to the response to Cyclone Debbie, which swept through the north of Queensland this week and was followed by severe flooding in NSW
“I think during the recovery and reconstruction, rebuilding process … providing this high resolution, high frequency imagery, it’s going to make all the difference,” Dr Meier said.
The research team is currently working in a number of countries across the Pacific, with an aim to expand in the future.
“We know many Pacific islands are especially vulnerable because of their geographic isolation,” said Peter Walton, the director of International at the Australian Red Cross.
‘There are co-ordination challenges’
Dr Meier teamed up with World Bank in Vanuatu in 2015 after Cyclone Pam left a trail of destruction.
While the cyclone hit on March 13, it wasn’t until two days later that a pilot from a small plane aviation company flew over remote islands. And it was four days after the event that full aerial images could be taken.
Dr Meier said while drones could provide a valuable service, there were co-ordination challenges.
“[We’re] making sure that we have segregated airspace wherever possible [because] obviously there are helicopters that are going to be flying by,” he said.
“They take priority. I’ve got to say in the past couple of years I expected a lot more resistance than there was.
“I think especially the folks who are on the ground who do this, they realise the use of drones can actually help them save them time as well as money, and we all want that.”