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Crowdsourcing Drones for Crisis Management

Dramatic weather events are becoming increasingly common, whether they’re hurricanes, extended periods of drought or out-of-season heatwaves. Understanding these phenomena is critical to (hopefully) helping reverse the cause. That, however, would likely require a coordinated global response, something that may not be possible.

But quicker action can be taken on the local level, especially in the event of a sudden catastrophe. Information culled from social media, satellite images, videos and photos can give local leaders the information they need to make better, quicker ground-level decisions.

As part of the European Union-funded beAWARE consortium focused on crises management (the overall intention of which involves situational awareness and command and control), IBM Research-Haifa is in large part responsible for building the platforms used to collect and analyze relevant data—and now it’s incorporating drones into the mix. Although IBM researchers have been working with drones for a while—creating algorithms that enhance their navigation, object-recognition, accuracy and monitoring capabilities—the challenge here involves managing and maintaining them.

To address these issues, the IBM team has developed a cognitive cloud-based platform that offers a framework for the management, provisioning and operation of drones and drones services. The ultimate goal involves civilians registering their drones to the platform and—by way of autonomous mission administration by the platform—contributing to crisis management. For example, a participant would leave his drone on his terrace, make it available to the platform and, in time of crisis, allow a municipality to use the drone to stream video from affected areas. In return, that person will be paid for the provided services.

The goal of the beAWARE program is to provide municipal authorities and decision-makers a richer picture of weather crises by collating and analyzing input from different origins—and drones can provide yet another vital layer of information for critical decision making. For example, the technology developed in Haifa allows users to provide coordinates defining a “geo-fenced” area of specific interest. The drones can then proceed with autonomous flights over the area at a precise elevation to collect raw video footage—in addition to analyzed feeds—that can be instantly relayed to emergency coordinators.

Drones add a new dimension to emergency response systems, especially when coupled with the new capabilities to collect, treat, merge and analyze the many, and varied, data-types sources that are now available. The overall platform is agile and efficient enough that it can classify crises, respond in kind, learn from previous situations and offer the ultimate in decision support. To learn more, visit