Dronebots: Revolutionizing Emergency Relief Efforts
Cutting Data Transfer Times by 80 per cent to Save Lives in Guatemala
As a child, Dan Alvarez looked up at the sky and dreamed of working in space. His graduation thesis in electrical engineering earned him an internship with the team that launched Guatemala’s first satellite. Today, the 27-year-old Guatemalan engineer is working in partnership with UNICEF to develop drones that transmit essential real-time data during natural disasters.
We live in the age of space communications but in Guatemala, we still struggle to collect data from disaster zones.
Guatemala ranks in the top five countries in the world most affected by climate induced natural disasters (floods, hurricanes and earthquakes) with 40.8 per cent of the population exposed to five or more threats simultaneously. Parts of the country most prone to disasters and emergencies often lack stable electricity and internet connections, making it difficult to collect important risk information during or immediately after a crisis. The data collection system used by the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (CONRED) during recovery efforts is slow and heavily dependent on internet and mobile phone connections.
UNICEF partnered with local agricultural drone start-up Aerobots to develop the first drone emergency response prototype in Guatemala. The guidelines for Dan and his team: an emergency drone system with connectivity independent of satellite, mobile, and internet networks; during climate-related emergencies and natural disasters, the emergency drone system should identify real-time data on affected communities ranging from evacuations and temporary shelter to damaged infrastructure such as homes and schools.
As the lead electrical engineer in Aerobots, Dan found himself at the epicenter of the creative partnership with UNICEF Guatemala, playing a key role in the development of the new emergency response innovation - Dronebots.
Being able to send data to relief efforts teams while they are mobilizing towards the epicenters of natural disasters is the best hope we can provide to the most vulnerable families of Guatemala.
Dan and the Aerobots team developed a software/hardware solution that allows drones to transmit real-time risk assessment information via LoRa.
LoRa is a wireless modulation technique derived from Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS) technology. It encodes information on radio waves using chirp pulses - similar to the way dolphins and bats communicate. Simply put, Dronebots establish a communication network between decision-makers, drone operators, and local volunteers saving lives when every other network fails.
The first test was successfully conducted at the government CONRED facilities where the agency was impressed by the results. The team estimates that the deployment of Dronebots will reduce by 80 per cent the time it takes to communicate data between emergency responders and government authorities. With over 7 million children in Guatemala, Dronebots has significant scaling potential to prevent mortality and morbidity in times of community disasters.
Dronebots, incubated by the UNICEF Office of Innovation, won the SPARK award and is being supported to scale nationally.
With Dronebots the local disaster reduction coordinators can provide data to the national coordinators, so we can make the best decisions to safeguard the lives of the families in need of help.
UNICEF assists CONRED with capacity-building workshops to increase the number of skilled drone operators during emergencies. A new memorandum of understanding enables UNICEF and CONRED to expand Dronebots innovation to eight regions of Guatemala where the poorest and most vulnerable communities live.
About the UNICEF Innovation Climate Portfolio
The UNICEF Innovation Global Climate Portfolio identifies, validates and scales transformational and frontier innovations that respond to key programmatic challenges that, if solved, will unlock faster progress for a climate secure and resilient future for children and young people. The initiative Innovation30 – Young Climate Innovators Shaping the Future sources transformational solutions developed by young people under 30 years.
UNICEF is ambitious and intentional about the meaningfully engagement of children and young people in innovating and shaping environmental policies in disaster risk preparedness and risk reduction.
The Global Climate Innovation Portfolio aligns with a diverse partner network to champion impactful solutions, especially with and for communities in the over 190 countries where we operate. With a shared purpose, we catalyze increased investments to source, pilot, iterate and scale solutions to help transform communities and build hope in addressing the global climate crisis.
Read more about UNICEF Office of Innovation’s Global Innovation Portfolios.
Read more about SPARK Incubator
Watch more about Dronebots