An Open Letter to the Humanitarian UAV Community

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NetHope – a consortium of non-governmental organizations that specialize in improving information technology collaboration – has been hosting an ongoing webinar series on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in development and relief. It’s been a fascinating educational series so far – beginning last July with Dan Gilman from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on emerging policy considerations for UAVs in humanitarian assistance, up through February when Andreas Raptopoulos of Matternet presented on new possibilities for UAV-based humanitarian distribution networks. (You can peruse the webinar archive here.)

This month, we’ll be joined by Abi Weaver of the Red Cross who will be discussing the formation of International Committee of the Red Cross’s (ICRC) global UAV implementation strategy. I’ll also be recording and sharing a panel discussion from March’s SXSW festival on “Drones for Good” featuring myself, Patrick Meier of UAViators, Kate Chapman from Humanitarian OpenStreetMap and Chris Fabian from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Thank you to all who have participated up to this point – whether you’ve attended one of these webinars or signed up for the working group itself. If you have not already joined the NetHope UAV working group, I encourage you to sign up here. Please keep in mind that you do not need to be part of a NetHope member organization in order to join this group; we encourage broad participation from all who may be interested.

As interest grows and the series and discussions continue, it’s time for the working group to start convening and collaborating around key areas of work. I think there are a few promising potential focus points:

  1. New webinars (particularly focusing on organizational case studies). Many organizations are starting to develop projects with a UAV component. If you’re interested in speaking to your initiative(s), please get in touch and we can add you to our webinar calendar; these presentations have proven to be a great platform for those looking to gain exposure and support for their projects and engage in constructive dialogue with others in the humanitarian technology community. If you have any connections with interesting vendors, academics or others working in this space that you think the NetHope community might benefit from getting to know better, we would be very interested in inviting them to speak as well.
  2. Training opportunities. Another possible focus area for the NetHope community is to improve training for NGO staff interested in developing projects utilizing UAVs. This training could focus on a number of different aspects of UAVs– from flight experience to image processing and analysis, to policy, law and regulations. This May, UAViators is hosting a training session on this range of topics in Bruges, Belgium. I will be participating in the session and would be more than happy to collaborate with others who have background in developing an NGO-focused training curriculum, with the intent of possibly setting up a NetHope UAV training event for sometime later this year.
  3. Collaborative projects. As more NGOs begin to consider UAV applications in crisis response efforts, we will need to think clearly and creatively about coordination and collaboration structures so as to maximize effectiveness and minimize the potential backlash against poorly coordinated and executed activities. One role for the NetHope working group could be to frame UAV applications within the pragmatic context of preparedness for collaboration during crisis response. If there are members who are interested in beginning to develop working models of UAV collaboration in preparation for crisis response implementations there might be an excellent opportunity for our entire community to get out in front of this technology while its parameters are still fairly fluid.

One of the key next steps, regardless of what we decide to do as a group, is to put together a steering committee to take responsibility for helping set strategic directions, organize projects, facilitate meetings and reach out to potential new members and partners. We are looking to put together a steering committee of no more than 3-5 people who can commit at least a couple of hours each month to drive the work of this group forward. If you are interested in volunteering as a member of the steering committee, please contact me directly at aschroeder@directrelief.org (again, you do not need to be a NetHope member in order to volunteer for the steering committee).

I would also like to extend an invitation to members of the UAV vendor community to reach out to us if interested in supporting the NetHope UAV working group in terms of providing financial, technical or advisory resources. Impactful work in this field will be difficult to accomplish without strong industry partnerships. We welcome all levels of involvement by our colleagues in the UAV industry– from participating in pilot project implementations to direct contributions to the overall work of this group. Please feel free to contact me directly to discuss opportunities for greater involvement.

I’m sure there are a number of other opportunities for us to work together as a humanitarian technology community in this rapidly developing space. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have ideas or information you would like to share. I’d be happy to set up a conference call at some point over the next month or so in order to begin talking through some of the options for how we can start to proactively move forward.

Thanks once again for your participation thus far. I’m looking forward to continuing our discussions as a group.

Visit the dedicated NetHope Solutions Center UAV Community Page >>

A version of this post first appeared on the NetHope Solutions Center blog.

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