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Drones could save us from disaster in the future

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Sep 12, 2017, 9:19 AM EDT

If launching drones to identify and even rescue victims of behemoth storms such as Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma is the future, then we’re living in it.

Anything that travels on land is bound to get more than soggy when floods reach highs of several feet. Never mind the buildings, trees, and other refuse that crashes to the ground in the wake of 100-plus-mph winds, making it even more dangerous for rescue teams to swoop in before it’s too late. This is when disaster-response teams release the drones.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs—what we call drones (and “drones” is admittedly just so much cooler)—were deployed by the dozens when Houston was ravaged by Hurricane Harvey. Drones were flying over Florida as part of extensive search and rescue efforts after Irma hit. They can zoom through the storm to find the stranded and assess damage from overhead, as well as keep an eye on levees and estimate the possibility of further flooding and how long certain areas will stay submerged. They can even drop life jackets and rescue ropes into especially dangerous areas that could risk the lives of rescuers as much as those of victims.


A drone assesses property damage in Houston after Hurricane Harvey.

“[Harvey] is one of the first big disasters where we can show how valuable drones can be,” said Brandon Stark, director of the University of California’s Center of Excellence on Unmanned Aircraft System Safety (if any of you Game of Thrones fans have to know, that is his real name).

This is hardly a sci-fi disaster movie. UAV rescue abilities were put to the test last year in a European study, and the drones outperformed anything earthbound when it came to locating isolated people. Several groups sent out drones into post-Harvey Texas, including a team led by Texas A&M computer science professor Dr. Robin Murphy. Her team flew 119 various drones, from the quadcopters you can actually send buzzing around your backyard to the military-grade Insitu ScanEagle, which gets catapulted into the air, over Houston. Humanitarian Drones, a nonprofit that is exactly what its name says it is, used mapping and analytics from DroneDeploy to zero in on the wreckage of Harvey and Irma.

Until humans can figure out some way to fly, drones can see things from above that we just can’t with our feet on the ground, and would you really want to take off in such extreme weather even if you had mutant superpowers?

(via NBC Mach)