DroneDeploy’s community projects in South Africa, Malawi
Last year, drone services company DroneDeploy helped train at least 40 young South Africans on how to fly drones and use them to collect data
The project was part of DroneDeploy’s commitment to helping communities they work in, and use the company’s drone-based technology solutions to put technology and power into the hands of decision makers at a local scale.
“Reality capture technology is becoming a critical tool to document, understand and interpret our physical environment,” says Jono Milin, co-founder of DroneDeploy.
“As our industry’s field of work and influence grows, the question of “whose reality are we capturing?” becomes increasingly important.
“Traditional documentation methods don’t provide a single source of truth, but a set of observations filtered by the lens of the observer. Our technology allows anyone to take a photo, create a map and share that across the world, capturing an objective view of all aspects of a location.
“As we expand reality capture technology, our mission at DroneDeploy.org is to provide the tools for everyone to capture their reality and use this power and knowledge to shape the future. We see this story playing out around the globe in local communities.”
In its 2022 Social Impact report on community responsibilities, the company said it worked with 138 non-profit partners in 61 countries, the main focus being on environmental conservation, disaster response and community engagement.
In 25,000 flights, DroneDeploy also mapped 12million acres of land, created 15,000 maps and donated $992,000.
“DroneDeploy.org has the incredible opportunity to empower new voices as they capture their reality for good,” Milin says.
“Our mission at DroneDeploy.org is to provide the tools for everyone to capture their reality and use this power and knowledge to shape the future. Our partners are using reality capture technology to improve lives by increasing safety, efficiency and impact. Dronedeploy.org has three focus areas where are product delivers: community engagement, crisis response, and wildlife conservation.
“In our report, we highlighted how our impact partners are using incredible insights from reality capture technology to fight for their resources, livelihoods and communities.”
In their involvement in South Africa, DroneDeploy worked with the Youth Employment Service (YES) South Africa, Mzansi Aerospace Technologies and the City of Ekurhuleni to map a large informal settlement; training a group of over 40 youth not only how to fly a drone, but also how to analyse the data collected using the DroneDeploy platform.
The country’s Housing Development Agency is tasked with the upgrading of informal settlements with proper infrastructure and things like mapping and street addresses.
Only the agency does not have a clear picture of what a community looks like or how many people live there.
And that is how the YES programme comes in. It offers paid on the job training for youth in South Africa as they work on government and community needs projects. In this particular programme, the youth used drones to collect data on informal settlements around the city.
One of the informal settlements they worked in is in Soweto in South West Johannesburg, where an estimated one million people were said to be living in. in mapping this area, the youth collected and processed data that included flood lines, encroachment of environmentally sensitive areas, as well as planning data for services and public safety.
The trainees also learned about issues in their own communities and are empowered on how to use new technologies to help in addressing community needs.
“What has impacted me the most is actually getting experience,” said Anele Nala, one of the youth who took part in the programme.
“There are not many opportunities for youth in our country to learn new skills. Not only am I getting paid, I am also getting trained on something I really enjoy.”
DroneDeploy is also in Malawi, where the company is working with park authorities at Kasungu National Park to look after the new herd of 150 elephants that got resettled in 2015.
Kasungu National Park is trying to reaccommodate elephants again after the first population was decimated by poachers, from a high of 1,200 strong in the 1970s to as little as 120 elephants by the turn of the century.
Hopefully now with the drones in place, the security of the new elephant population would be more assured.
“There are two ways drone flights are used for park management: monitoring human activities and monitoring the habitat and wildlife,” DroneDeploy said in its report.
“For human activities, encroachment on the boundaries of the park can be a major issue. Using progress flights, the rangers can see if people are building structures or farming nearby, or if elephants are moving outside the park and raiding neighbouring farms.
“For habitat monitoring, the rangers use drone maps to look at the effects elephants are having on the park’s ecosystem, ensuring they are not overgrazing or having a negative effect on the ecosystem.
“The rangers are exploring new uses of reality capture tools to monitor the elephants themselves. Using DroneDeploy, they can find and identify herd locations and behaviour, and even measure the size of individual elephants. Together with DroneDeploy developers, we are also testing AI tools to count individuals.”
Work towards repopulating the park with elephants started in 2015, with authorities embarking on a rigorous conservation journey that has reduced elephant poaching to zero since 2018. The help drone technology has given to monitoring and management efforts is one of the reasons why no elephant has lost its life to poachers in five years.
“DroneDeploy’s social impact program has provided incredible value for our small team working to protect wildlife in Malawi,” said Catherine Sibale, a ranger at Kasungu National Park.
“It has allowed us to put the technology into the hands of more people, allowing them to be more efficient and effective in their work.”
The company has a similar project in Vietnam where they are using drone technology to help protect the Cao Vit Gibbon, an endangered species of ape in northern parts of the country along the border with China. The primate was thought to have gone extinct until it was rediscovered in 2002.
DroneDeploy is therefore working with Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and Forest Protection Department rangers and local communities; deloying the drones for the purposes of mapping and monitoring the quality of the Cao Vit Gibbon’s habitat in the remote and rugged mountainous terrain.
Oliver Wearn, the senior technical specialist at FFI has found DroneDeploy’s drone solutions really useful.
“We’ve found DroneDeploy immensely useful for quickly generating insights from our abundance of drone data that we can turn to actions on the ground, such as identifying where our restoration efforts are most needed or where critical habitats are that need protecting,” he said.
Disaster Response (which DroneDeploy calls, Crisis)
Nearly half of all search missions by Hjálparsveit skáta í Reykjavík, an Iceland search and rescue organization, use DroneDeploy as an integral part of their operations in searches for missing person searches. The software allows them to gain situational awareness in new environments and methodically search areas for missing persons.
Ólafur Jón Jónsson (Óli), a volunteer with Reykjavik Search and Rescue (REY-SAR), purchased a drone solely as a hobbyist in 2015, inspired to pursue a personal passion. Soon after, he began to notice the parallels in his doings as a drone enthusiast, and his operations as a search and rescue volunteer.
Convinced of the technology’s real-world applications, Óli started experimenting with his drone in callouts and lobbied his friends and colleagues to join in. This single drone began to attract attention and demand for it grew with the discovery of its capabilities, increased experience and familiarity.
Over time, and with many on-hand demonstrations, Óli’s team embraced his passion project. Flying the drone themselves
and seeing the value-add that came from efficient photo collection and map creation convinced them to implement the technology.
David Oddsson, Drone Operations Manager and member of the organization’s board, stated, “Óli has contributed a lot to changing the perception of our group. He pushed very hard to use drones from the beginning. These persistent efforts resulted in faster, more efficient search and rescue operations for all.”
Today, an entire drone team at Hjálparsveit skáta í Reykjavík works with on-the-ground operators to quickly and safely complete missions. Óli told us that drones are deployed whenever they can be, weather permitting. Drones are now an integral part of nearly all callouts, providing a wide range of services and capabilities.
Meanwhile, the drones flew out and joined rescue effort when Hurricane Ian – the fifth strongest storm to ever hit the United States; the third most expensive weather disaster in living memory and the deadliest to hit Florida since 1935 – landed on US shores in Florida, leaving a destructive trail.
The Category 5 hurricane caused loss of life as well as significant property damage totalling over $40 billion.
“Drone Cadets collaborated to develop the Career Pathways Pipeline into the drone industry. The consortium was given a rare chance to respond to Hurricane Ian,” the report read.
“They deployed to Fort Myers Florida and surrounding areas to provide aerial support for damage assessments, which identified how much and how severe structural damage was. This information is critical for insurance claims and rebuilding.”
Faustino Taguja was one of the pilots who responded as part of Drone Cadets programming. He used DroneDeploy to quickly process the data for disaster mapping purposes. Tahuja was able to identify an area of interest to capture, set up a mapping mission on DroneDeploy’s mobile app, capture the data, upload it to Drone Deploy and receive a 2D or 3D map of the area in a matter of hours.
Drone Cadets also participated in multiple missing person searches in Florida after the hurricane. The team used drone maps to assist in the search process. The speed of data acquisition significantly increased how quickly aid was able to reach impacted communities.