Tag Archives: Strategy

Humanitarian UAV Network: Strategy for 2014-2015

The purpose of the Humanitarian UAV Network (UAViators) is to guide the responsible and safe use of small UAVs in humanitarian settings while promoting information sharing and enlightened policymaking. As I’ve noted in the past, UAVs are already being used to support a range of humanitarian efforts. So the question is not if, but rather how to facilitate the inevitable expanded use of UAVs in a responsible and safe manner. This is just one of many challenging questions that UAViators was created to manage.

UAViators Logo

UAViators has already drafted a number of documents, including a Code of Conduct and an Operational Check-List for the use of UAVs in humanitarian settings. These documents will continue to be improved throughout the year, so don’t expect a final and perfect version tomorrow. This space is still too new to have all the answers in a first draft. So our community will aim to improve these documents over time. By the end of 2014, we hope to have a solid version of the of Code of Conduct for organizations and companies to publicly endorse.


In the meantime, my three Research Assistants (RA’s) and I are working on (the first ever?) comprehensive evaluation of 1) Small UAVs; 2) Cameras; 3) Payload Units; and 4) Imagery Software specifically for humanitarian field-workers. The purpose of this evaluation is to rate which technologies are best suited to the needs of humanitarians in the field. We will carry out this research through interviews with seasoned UAV experts coupled with secondary, online research. Our aim is to recommend 2-3 small UAVs, cameras, payload units and software solutions for imagery processing and analysis that make the most sense for humanitarians as end users. These suggestions will then be “peer reviewed” by members of the Humanitarian UAV Network.

Following this evaluation, my three RA’s and I will create a detailed end-to-end operational model for the use of UAVs in humanitarian settings. The model will include pre-flight guidance on several key issues including legislation, insurance, safety and coordination. The pre-flight section will also include guidance on how to program the flight-path of the UAVs recommended in the evaluation. But the model does not end with the safe landing of a UAV. The operational model will include post-flight guidance on imagery processing and analysis for decision support as well as guidelines on information sharing with local communities. Once completed, this operational model will also be “peer reviewed” by members of the UAViators.

Credit Drone Adventures

Both deliverables—the evaluation and model—will be further reviewed by the Advisory Board of UAViators and by field-based humanitarians. We hope to have this review completed during the Humanitarian UAV Experts Meeting, which I am co-organizing with OCHA in New York this November. Feedback from this session will be integrated into both deliverables.

Our plan is to subsequently convert these documents into training materials for both online and onsite training. We have thus far identified two sites for this training, one in Southeast Asia and the other in southern Africa. We’re considering a potential third site in South America depending on the availability of funding. These trainings will enable us to further improve our materials and to provide minimum level certification to humanitarians participating in said trainings. To this end, our long-term strategy for the Humanitarian UAV Network is not only to facilitate the coordination of small UAVs in humanitarian settings but also to provide both training and certification in collaboration with multiple humanitarian organizations.

I recognize that the above is highly ambitious. But all the signals I’m getting from humanitarian organizations clearly demonstrate that the above is needed. So if you have some expertise in this space and wish to join my Research Assistants and I in this applied and policy-focused research, then please do get in touch. In addition, if your organization or company is interested in funding any of the above, then do get in touch as well. We have the initial funding for the first phase of the 2014-2015 strategy and are in the process of applying for funding to complete the second phase.

One final but important point: while the use of many small and large UAVs in complex airspaces in which piloted (manned) aircraft are also flying poses a major challenge in terms of safety, collision avoidance and coordination, this obviously doesn’t mean that small UAVs should be grounded in humanitarian contexts with far simpler airspaces. Indeed, to argue that small UAVs cannot be responsibly and safely operated in simpler airspaces ignores the obvious fact that they already have—and continue to be responsibly & safely used. Moreover, I for one don’t see the point of flying small UAVs in areas already covered by larger UAVs and piloted aircraft. I’m far more interested in the rapid and local deployment of small UAVs to cover areas that are overlooked or have not yet been reached by mainstream response efforts. In sum, while it will take years to develop effective solutions for large UAV-use in dense and complex airspaces, small UAVs are already being used responsibly and safely by a number of humanitarian organizations and their partners.


See Also:

  • Welcome to the Humanitarian UAV Network [link]
  • How UAVs are Making a Difference in Disaster Response [link]
  • Humanitarians Using UAVs for Post Disaster Recovery [link]
  • Grassroots UAVs for Disaster Response [link]
  • Using UAVs for Search & Rescue [link]
  • Debrief: UAV/Drone Search & Rescue Challenge [link]
  • Crowdsourcing Analysis of UAV Imagery for Search/Rescue [link]
  • Check-List for Flying UAVs in Humanitarian Settings [link]

Identifying Strategic Protest Routes for Civil Resistance: An Analysis of Optimal Approaches to Tahrir Square

My colleague Jessica recently won the Tufts GIS Poster Expo with her excellent poster on civil resistance. She used GIS data to analyze optimal approaches to Tahrir Square in Cairo. According to Jessica, many previous efforts to occupy the square had failed. So Egyptian activists spent two weeks brainstorming the best strategies to approach Tahrir Square.

Out of curiosity, Jessica began to wonder whether the use of GIS data and spatial analysis might shed some light on possible protest routes. She began her analysis by  identifying three critical strategic elements for a successful protest route:

“1) Gathering points where demonstrators initiate protests; 2) two types of routes—protest collection areas of high population density through which protesters walk to collect additional supporters and protest approach routes on major streets that accommodate large groups that are more difficult to disperse; and 3) convergence points where smaller groups of protester merge to increase strength in order to approach the destination.”

For her analysis, Jessica took gathering points and convergence points into consideration. For example, many Egyptian activist met at Mosques. So she selected optimal Mosques based on their distance to police stations (the farther the better) and high road density area “as a proxy for population density.” In terms of convergence points, smaller groups of protestors converged on major roads and intersections. The criteria that Jessica used to select these points were: distance to Tahrir Square, high density of road junctions and open space to allow for large group movement. She also took into account protest route collection areas. These tend to be “densely populated and encourage residents to join, increasing participation.” So Jessica selected these based on high road density and most direct route to Tahrir Square using major roads.

Overlaying the data and using GIS analysis on each strategic element yields the following optimal routes to Tahrir:

Jessica writes that “the results of this project demonstrate that GIS tools can be used for plotting strategic routes for protest using criteria that can change based on the unique geospatial environment. In Cairo, the optimal gathering points, strategic routes and convergence points are not always located in an obvious path (i.e. optimal mosques located in areas with low road density or convergence points without gathering points in the close proximity). The map does, however, provide protest organizers with some basic instruction on where to start, what direction to head and where to converge for the final approach.”

She does also acknowledge some of the limitations of the study owing to lack of high-resolution spatial data. I would add temporal data since civil resistance is fluid and changes, which requires rapid adaptation and re-strategizing. If her analysis could be combined with real time information coming from crowdsourced data such as U-Shahid, then I think this could be quite powerful.

For more on the civil resistance tactics used in Egypt during the revolution, please see this blog post.