How Emerging Tech Is Changing Disaster Relief
The Rock isn't going to save San Francisco after a cargo ship-moving, bridge-splitting, tsunami-causing earthquake
… but cutting-edge technology might. Given recent progress by inventors, it looks like it can. I thought it would be interesting to
look at some recent examples of emerging technology for disaster relief in action.
7 Promising Technologies Identified
Earlier this year, I attended an event organized by the Red Cross to brainstorm and develop ideas surrounding emerging technology and disaster relief.This San Francisco workshop was one of many that occurred across the world. From the ideas and information shared in these workshops, the Red Cross published a report called A Vision for the Humanitarian Use of Emerging Technology for Emerging Needs. The Red Cross identified seven technologies that could be used in disaster relief:
2. 3D printing
4. Smart homes, cars, and appliances
5. Augmented reality
7. Wearable technology
After a devastating earthquake strikes, a nuclear power plant is on the verge of an explosion. A robot hero is sent into the rubble to shut off some critical valves — too dangerous a task for humans. No, this isn't the plotline of the next film in the RoboCop franchise, but the
scenario behind a competition at the recent DARPA Robotics Challenge. Reporting from the Challenge, the LA Times described an ape-like robot called CHIMP, a wheeled robot named
RoboSimian, and a pink-haired humanoid named THOR-RD. These robots can drive cars, climb steps, detect objects, and more. At the DARPA
challenge, a South Korean robot successfully completed all eight of the tasks assigned to the robots, earning its makers a $2 million prize.
But, as this video below demonstrates, many of the competing bipedal (two-legged) robots have trouble keeping balance. We've still got a ways
Drones in Nepal
After the destructive earthquake in Nepal, drones provided crucial assistance to aid workers. GlobalMedic, a company that
deploys drones (or unmanned aerial vehicles) for relief efforts, has been tasked to map the affected areas. Two of the drones the company is
using, the SkyRanger and Scout models, can identify people trapped or injured by using thermal cameras. GlobalMedic says that the images
captured by the drones can help workers deliver relief more effectively.
3D Printing a New Hand
Of all of these technologies, 3D printing has had the longest history of being used for disaster relief. From 3D-printed umbilical clips to
water filters, relief workers have found creative — and lifesaving — uses for 3D printers. We've also seen 3D printers utilized to create prosthetics, something that would also be highly useful in a disaster
For example, Welmer Cordova, who was badly burned in a gas explosion in Guatemala, lost part of his right hand. Now, he can open and close his hand thanks to a 3D-printed hand brace. Was it a doctor who printed Welmer's new hand? Nope, it was a
librarian, John Walsh, at the Newton Free Library in Massachusetts! While Walsh is experienced in using 3D printers, the hope is that asthese devices evolve, almost anybody can print a life-changing or lifesaving item. A Wearable Tech for Relief Challenge
Tech Wildcatters, a start-up accelerator in Dallas, announced a challenge called Emerge <http://techwildcatters.com/emerge/>
for making wearable technology for police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel. Funded by the Department of Homeland Security, this project is a 12-week program, which started June 8, for six start-ups ending with a demo day hosted by partner Wearable World in San Francisco.
The Department of Homeland Security chose this start-up challenge format for wearable technology because the format might speed up the development and adoption process. We'll keep you updated with what kind
of wearables for disaster relief come out of this exciting challenge.
Looking Forward to More Emerging Technologies
There are still a few technology categories on the Red Cross list that are still in concept stage: biometrics, smart homes and cars, and augmented reality. There isn't much out there about these technologies being used or developed for disaster relief, but as the Red Cross continues these workshops and conversations, we will be sure to see more news arise.