This article addresses humanitarian uses; a future article will discuss medical and MEDEVAC uses.
The 13 February 2017 edition of SOFX ran an interesting article about the potential of drones in humanitarian assistance, particularly in crises. However, that article concentrated on the trendy hobbyist quadcopters and missed the needs for a more robust airframe.
The “fun factor” of technology hobbies should not guide the direction of drone development in humanitarian assistance. These drones are the domain of enthusiasts and innovators, but the platform is lacking in many respects.
Drones have, indeed, been successfully used for missions as diverse as delivering critical medications for that difficult logistical last mile. Clinical laboratory specimens have been transported over short distances of difficult terrain. In fact, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has used drones to drop grenades on unsuspecting Peshmerga, killing two. Innovation continues on many fronts.
But in developing new technologies for humanitarian assistance, should we pin our research and development resources on this particular vehicle?
The humanitarian community, including non-government organizations (NGOs), Department of Defense, or other agencies, should consider fixed-wing vehicles with higher payloads, longer range, greater loiter time on target, more robust control systems, and higher operational ceiling. Although there is greater expense in developing and testing new platforms for humanitarian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), there will be high payoffs in durability, life cycle, and versatility.
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