Aerospace technologies for humanitarian aid
View of Dadaab, KenyaThis Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite image taken on 11 February 2016 shows Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp complex, and its surroundings. Around 328,000 refugees are currently living in the camps.
MEPA units deployed in the fieldMobile, deployable plant cultivation units (Mobil Entfaltbare PflanzenAnbaueinheit; MEPA) can be deployed individually or arranged in arrays to serve larger communities.
Off-road vehicle in difficult terrainRobot-controlled vehicles are designed to travel along routes that pose great risks to human drivers.
Automated damage analysisAfter 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.
Humanitarian aid – uncrewed emergency provisions in crisis regionsTogether with the UN World Food Programme, DLR is testing the transportation of relief supplies, using an uncrewed helicopter to reach regions that are difficult to access.
Emergency mapping – relieving hunger in SomaliaIn 2011, East Africa was hit by its worst famine in decades. DLR created emergency maps on behalf of the UN World Food Programme. This satellite map of the city of Baardheere provides information on the infrastructure, hydrology systems and the size of the settlements located there.
Haiti earthquake – change analysisOn 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.
An increasing number of people around the world are becoming dependent on humanitarian aid. Crisis, conflicts, natural disasters and climate change are all major factors in this shift. Humanitarian aid is often conducted in difficult political circumstances and poor security situations, often under intense time pressure. Aid organisations are thus increasingly looking for technological support to increase the efficacy and sustainability of their operations.
To this end, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) has launched its Humanitarian Technologies initiative. The initiative aims to further develop cutting-edge aerospace technologies for humanitarian purposes and apply them on the ground, ensuring that they are cost-effective and adapted to the needs of humanitarian organisations. The projects under the initiative are being carried out by interdisciplinary teams. Scientists and engineers from DLR are collaborating with aid organisations – sometimes with additional support from industry – to develop new technologies and strategies for the improved and more effective provision of humanitarian aid worldwide. DLR uses its annual Humanitarian Technology Days to establish contact with humanitarian organisations and work together to identify needs and knowledge gaps that can be addressed using aerospace technology.
Current projects under the initiative
- MEPA – mobile greenhouses
The mobile, deployable plant cultivation unit (Mobil Entfaltbare PflanzenAnbaueinheit; MEPA) developed by DLR is not only able to supply astronauts in space with tomatoes and lettuce, but could also be used in future to provide food for people in crisis regions who have lost their source of nutrition. DLR’s partners in this project are the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), Plan International, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW).
- Data4Human – needs-based data services for humanitarian aid
The precise and real-time processing and analysis of geodata acquired by satellites or accessed via the internet are making these data useful for humanitarian aid personnel who need to quickly evaluate crisis situations. In addition, DLR remote sensing data can help document the effects of climate change or analyse crop losses. DLR’s partners in the Data4Human project are WFP, Human Rights Watch, the German Red Cross, the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team and the UN Development Programme.
- Drones4Good – using AI in disaster management
Artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to ensure the safe use of drones for humanitarian purposes. This project addresses the use of AI in disaster management, including the difficulties involved in collecting and analysing vast quantities of remote sensing data.
- Autonomous Humanitarian Emergency Aid Devices (AHEAD) – tele-operated trucks transport aid supplies
Robot-controlled vehicles from WFP are designed to traverse routes that pose a significant risk to human drivers. The vehicles are controlled from a safe location using telepresence technology. This ensures safe transportation options, allowing WFP to expand its operational reach.
Uncrewed helicopter delivers humanitarian supplies
In conjunction with WFP, DLR has investigated the use of an uncrewed helicopter for the transport of aid supplies to hard-to-reach locations. This required the simulation of a number of emergency scenarios in which DLR's superARTIS helicopter was used to successfully transport 20 kilograms of aid supplies in specially designed disposable boxes provided by the company Wings for Aid.
Emergency mapping for crisis situations
The data acquired by sensors on satellites and aircraft, and the spatial information derived from them, contribute towards a better understanding of humanitarian emergencies and the planning of relief operations. DLR’s Center for Satellite Based Crisis Information (ZKI) provides valuable information to facilitate a rapid response to the destruction sustained during an extreme emergency situation. Satellite data are recorded, analysed and processed to quickly create tailored maps.
DLR is also involved in United Nations programmes such as UN-SPIDER, which aims to improve access to data acquired from space, prevent disasters and manage those that do occur more effectively. It is particularly important to strengthen local organisations and stakeholders, for example by assisting them in the development of their own emergency mapping capabilities. DLR has also been working closely with German agencies such as the THW and International Search and Rescue Germany for many years. The real-time functionality of DLR’s MACS camera system makes it possible, for instance, to map an area of application from the air within minutes.
DLR robotic vehicles will support deliveries in difficult areas for the World Food ProgrammeAs part of a new collaborative project, researchers from DLR's Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics and a consortium of additional DLR institutes and technology partners are investigating how aid supplies can be safely brought to their destinations using remote-controlled trucks.
DLR technologies for humanitarian aidTechnologies 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.