He bought the original DJI Phantom just to play around with. But he also happened to be working with the UN in Manila, Philippines in 2013, when Typhoon Yolanda struck. “I was there, and I kept coming across UAV project after UAV project,” he said. “There were a dozen projects.”
The issue? None of the projects were communicating with each other or sharing imagery.“Eventually I starting trying to put them in touch with each other,” Meier said.
That’s when he launched the Humanitarian UAV Network, UAViators.org,
A global network of civilian/hobbyist UAV pilots who safely and responsibly fly UAVs to support peaceful, humanitarian efforts.
Meier, whose extensive resume in humanitarian efforts includes cofounder of Crisis Mappers Pre-Doctoral Fellow at Stanford University and Co-Director of the Crisis Mapping Program at Harvard University, found that often drone pilots want to help in a disaster situation. But problems arise when they aren’t trained in appropriate humanitarian response techniques.
“We should not expect UAV groups to be experts in humanitarian response,” he said. “Meanwhile we (humanitarian groups) are the last adopters of every technology on the planet.” Merging the two groups could be the perfect Match.com-esque pair, Meier realized. Pilots who have joined the network can post their location, equipment and work they are capable of doing, while a group needing a volunteer drone pilot can easily find someone to do the job.
While in the Philippines, Meier was able to connect a number of projects that extend throughout the life cycle of disaster response, including:
- identifying areas where NGOs could set up camp
- identify how badly houses had been damaged
- gather information about road clearance operations to identify which should be prioritized for
- search and rescue