14. April 2020
Fresh food and reliable crisis information

DLR tech­nolo­gies for hu­man­i­tar­i­an aid

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MEPA units deployed in the field
MEPA units de­ployed in the field
Image 1/6, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

MEPA units deployed in the field

Mo­bile, de­ploy­able plant cul­ti­va­tion units (Mo­bil Ent­falt­bare PflanzenAn­bauein­heit; MEPA) can be de­ployed in­di­vid­u­al­ly or ar­ranged in ar­rays to serve larg­er com­mu­ni­ties.
Mobile plant cultivation unit (MEPA)
Mo­bile plant cul­ti­va­tion unit (MEPA)
Image 2/6, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Mobile plant cultivation unit (MEPA)

DLR's mo­bile de­ploy­able plant cul­ti­va­tion unit (Mo­bil Ent­falt­bare PflanzenAn­bauein­heit; MEPA) en­ables the pro­duc­tion of fresh food dur­ing hu­man­i­tar­i­an emer­gen­cies. This im­age shows the sim­plest of a to­tal of three cul­ti­va­tion sys­tems. This ‘min­i­mal sys­tem’ pro­vides a sev­en-square-me­tre cul­ti­va­tion area and is de­signed to pro­duce a yield of 85 heads of let­tuce, weigh­ing ap­prox­i­mate­ly 42 kilo­grams per har­vest cy­cle. The MEPA sys­tem is based on hy­dro­pon­ics and is equipped with a so­lar-pow­ered au­to­mat­ed sup­port unit.
MEPA – compact for transport
MEPA – com­pact for trans­port
Image 3/6, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

MEPA – compact for transport

DLR's mo­bile de­ploy­able plant cul­ti­va­tion unit (Mo­bil Ent­falt­bare PflanzenAn­bauein­heit; MEPA) is so com­pact that up to 75 units can be trans­port­ed in a 40-foot con­tain­er. Us­ing the sim­plest MEPA unit, the 'min­i­mal sys­tem', a to­tal of 3.1 tonnes of let­tuce can be har­vest­ed per freight con­tain­er and har­vest cy­cle.
Haiti earthquake – change analysis
Haiti earth­quake – change anal­y­sis
Image 4/6, Credit: GeoEye-1 satellite data, processed by DLR

Haiti earthquake – change analysis

On 12 Jan­uary 2010, a se­vere earth­quake struck Haiti. The af­ter im­age, ac­quired on 18 Au­gust 2010 shows which build­ings are still de­stroyed, where new build­ings have been erect­ed and the ex­act dis­tri­bu­tion of makeshift shel­ters. The changes in the build­ings were au­to­mat­i­cal­ly record­ed. The DLR Earth Ob­ser­va­tion Cen­ter used pro­cess­ing meth­ods based on ma­chine learn­ing and da­ta from the re­mote sens­ing satel­lite Geo­Eye-1, which has a res­o­lu­tion of 0.5 me­tres.
Automated damage analysis
Au­to­mat­ed dam­age anal­y­sis
Image 5/6, Credit: xView2 data, processed by DLR

Automated damage analysis

Af­ter a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter it is im­por­tant to record the dam­age quick­ly. In DLR's 'Da­ta4Hu­man' project, the dam­age to build­ings is to be record­ed au­to­mat­i­cal­ly – us­ing in­tel­li­gent meth­ods to pro­cess da­ta ac­quired us­ing re­mote sens­ing. The ex­am­ple here shows dam­age anal­y­ses for sev­er­al nat­u­ral dis­as­ters in the USA – be­fore and af­ter Hur­ri­canes Flo­rence and Matthew, a flood dis­as­ter in the Mid­west and the bush fire in San­ta Rosa. DLR ex­perts used the pub­lic xView2 da­ta set for the anal­y­sis.
Wacken Open Air – major event situation assessment
Wack­en Open Air – ma­jor event sit­u­a­tion as­sess­ment
Image 6/6, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Wacken Open Air – major event situation assessment

The 'Wack­en Open Air' mu­sic fes­ti­val at­tracts over 70,000 vis­i­tors ev­ery year. To en­able the or­gan­is­ers to bet­ter as­sess the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion on the fes­ti­val site, DLR pro­duced a sit­u­a­tion map. Tents and cars were au­to­mat­i­cal­ly de­tect­ed and clas­si­fied based on aeri­al im­ages. The DLR Earth Ob­ser­va­tion Cen­ter con­tribut­ed its 3K cam­era sys­tem, which has a res­o­lu­tion of 13 cen­time­tres, and near-re­al-time da­ta pro­cess­ing. In fu­ture, these tech­nolo­gies could al­so be used in the hu­man­i­tar­i­an field, for ex­am­ple, to record the sit­u­a­tion in refugee camps or to eval­u­ate ob­jects in dis­as­ter ar­eas.
  • DLR conducts projects in close cooperation with international humanitarian aid organisations.
  • Development of the data service 'Data4Human' and the mobile plant cultivation unit 'MEPA'.
  • Focus: Space, Earth observation

Technologies developed for spaceflight must function under extreme conditions. Not only do systems and equipment need to be robust, safe, compact, lightweight and easy to use, but they must also function reliably and sometimes autonomously. Satellite technologies also provide a rapid and comprehensive view of Earth from above. These special properties also prove useful on Earth, not least for dealing with natural disasters and other extreme situations. In 2019, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) launched an initiative to make space technologies usable for humanitarian aid and systematically develop them further. The first two 'Humanitarian Technologies' projects have now begun. These include the mobile, deployable plant cultivation unit MEPA (Mobil Entfaltbare PflanzenAnbaueinheit) and the Data4Human project, which develops special data services for humanitarian aid.

MEPA – mobile greenhouses

In humanitarian crisis situations, supplying food is one of the most crucial tasks undertaken by international aid organisations. However, fresh foods such as fruit or vegetables tend to be either scarce or completely unavailable. A medium-term source of nutrition is often required for the people at the crisis site. The aim of DLR's MEPA project is to provide a means of producing fresh food in emergency situations – in refugee camps, after catastrophic floods or earthquakes, during droughts or in confined, overpopulated areas.

Researchers from the DLR Institute of Space Systems and the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine are providing their expertise for this. In the EDEN research project, they are developing and testing greenhouses and plant cultivation technologies for long-term missions in space. Tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables have already been harvested at the Neumayer III research station operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Antarctica.

The DLR experts have designed three systems for use in areas affected by disasters. What all of these plant cultivation units have in common is that they do not require soil, are reusable, and enable rapid production, with the first harvest after just four to six weeks. In addition, they are easy to use, and can be deployed on a standalone basis.

Over the next two years, the DLR team will specify, build and test the MEPA systems on site. To ensure that the designs meet actual needs, the researchers are working in close coordination with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (Bundesanstalt Technisches Hilfswerk; THW), Plan International and the non-governmental humanitarian aid organisation ADRA.

Data4Human – data service for emergency personnel

Among other things, humanitarian aid organisations need up-to-date status information if they are to take important decisions and initiate appropriate measures in crisis situations. Often, however, this information is simply unavailable. Access to openly accessible, reliable sources of data, at local, regional and even global levels, is a matter of pressing concern for those involved. DLR's Earth Observation Center (EOC) and the DLR Institute of Data Science are making their expertise in this area available as part of the Data4Human project. Together with humanitarian aid organisations, they are developing analysis methods and tools to provide data from satellites, aircraft, drones, ground-based sensors and web-based sources.

In the field of data processing, DLR is contributing machine learning methods, which, for example, enable damage analysis of critical infrastructure after a natural disaster. Combining 'physical' Earth observation by satellites with 'digital' Earth observation on the internet also provides a technological enhancement. When merged, this data could be used to better monitor refugee flow and human rights violations, or to analyse crop losses in Africa. Satellite data and geodata are increasingly set to be combined with automatically collected, web-based information. In addition, data from sources such as news portals and social networks are to be evaluated.

The researchers are also working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other humanitarian aid organisations on further data analysis, such as documenting reconstruction after a disaster or the effectiveness of humanitarian aid. DLR's remote sensing experts and data scientists have now teamed up with the German Red Cross and the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team (HOT-OSM) to support these diverse topics. The Data4Human project will run until the end of 2021.

Contact
  • Bernadette Jung
    Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Ober­paf­fen­hofen, Weil­heim, Augs­burg
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Pub­lic Af­fairs and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
    Telephone: +49 8153 28-2251
    Fax: +49 8153 28-1243
    Münchener Straße 20
    82234 Weßling
    Contact
  • Anne Schneibel
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Ger­man Re­mote Sens­ing Da­ta Cen­ter (DFD)
    Telephone: +49 8153 28-1768
    Münchener Straße 20
    82234 Weßling
    Contact
  • Daniel Schubert
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute of Space Sys­tems
    Telephone: +49 421 24420-1136
    Robert-Hooke-Straße 7
    28359 Bremen
    Contact

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