Aerospace tech­nolo­gies for hu­man­i­tar­i­an aid

View of Dadaab, Kenya
View of Dadaab, Kenya
Image 1/8, Credit: Copernicus Sentinel data 2016

View of Dadaab, Kenya

This 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.
Flooding in Bad Münstereifel
Flood­ing in Bad Mün­stereifel
Image 2/8, Credit: DLR-ZKI (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Flooding in Bad Münstereifel

The map shows the flood­ing in Bad Mün­stereifel (Eu­skirchen dis­trict, North Rhine-West­phalia) on 15.07.2021.
MEPA units deployed in the field
MEPA units de­ployed in the field
Image 3/8, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 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.
Off-road vehicle in difficult terrain
Off-road ve­hi­cle in dif­fi­cult ter­rain
Image 4/8, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Off-road vehicle in difficult terrain

Robot-con­trolled ve­hi­cles are de­signed to trav­el along routes that pose great risks to hu­man drivers.
Automated damage analysis
Au­to­mat­ed dam­age anal­y­sis
Image 5/8, 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.
Humanitarian aid – uncrewed emergency provisions in crisis regions
Hu­man­i­tar­i­an aid – un­crewed emer­gen­cy pro­vi­sions in cri­sis re­gions
Image 6/8, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Humanitarian aid – uncrewed emergency provisions in crisis regions

To­geth­er 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 Somalia
Emer­gen­cy map­ping – re­liev­ing hunger in So­ma­lia
Image 7/8, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Emergency mapping – relieving hunger in Somalia

In 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 analysis
Haiti earth­quake – change anal­y­sis
Image 8/8, 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.

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.

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.

Furthermore, 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.

Technologies for crisis management in the event of a disaster


Led by DLR, the international ResponDrone project is developing an innovative crisis management system based on a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles to respond to disasters more quickly, effectively and efficiently. The aim is to develop a multi-unmanned aircraft system (multi-UAS) platform for rescue workers to speed up situation assessment and improve emergency response efficiency in crisis regions. The ResponDrone platform is designed to facilitate decision-making by delivering all the available and relevant information to key stakeholders in real time via a web-based system.


The scale of natural disasters and crises triggered by human actions is often unpredictable, and their effects are often felt across borders. Dealing with the complex combinations of different causes, such as climate change, cyberattacks and terrorist activity, requires an overarching approach to coordination and data exchange. The IN-PREP project is developing tools that enable rescue missions – including cross-border missions – to be planned collaboratively, while also facilitating the efficient training of response teams.


Following a disaster event, real-time aerial imagery can make a significant contribution to the quick and accurate assessment of the situation on the ground and thus assist with the targeted planning of aid missions. The use of UAS has proven particularly effective for this purpose, as they can fly over regions that are difficult to access without endangering aid or rescue teams. As part of the EU project DRIVER+, DLR's research aircraft D-CODE was used as an uncrewed aircraft demonstrator to capture aerial images of a crisis area and make them available to rescue workers on the ground in almost real time. This marks an important first step in the use of uncrewed aircraft for crisis management.

13 articles

Main menu