In the wake of the strongest typhoon in recorded history, Swift Radioplanes LLC of Prescott, AZ recently returned from the Philippines, where they created aerial maps of the extensive damage as part of an open-source project. Shortly before Christmas, the team packed two of their Lynx Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and deployed to the central Philippine island of Cebu, where Super Typhoon Haiyan left behind a magnitude of destruction that is still not yet completely known.
The team spent seven days collecting thousands of high-resolution photos that will be composited into 3-dimensional maps to be given to the Philippine government and the worldwide academic community. “Our main objective was to document the destruction in the remote areas that the government hasn’t gone into,” said Stephen Rayleigh, co-founder.
In the Philippines, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is venturing out into the remote villages, where assessors must physically see a destroyed home before they can give governmental aid. They are reportedly understaffed, and the task ahead of them is far from over. Meanwhile, storms like Haiyan have become more frequent and increasingly severe, a pattern that some researchers say is due to climate change.
The company, which makes the small, hand-launched UAS, donated over 20 square kilometers of imagery, ranging from 2 to 7 centimeters per pixel in resolution, to the DSWD and universities in the Philippines and the United States. Soon, that imagery will be hosted on the Internet under a Creative Commons open-source license, allowing researchers to use the imagery for post-disaster UAS studies.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where Rayleigh also works as a part-time professor, assisted in the post-disaster effort. The UAS program at the Prescott, AZ campus provided travel funding, spare airframes, and sent one of its students enrolled in the UAS minor.
Rayleigh says the Lynx UAS was built for deployment into harsh environments like the ones they encountered in the Philippines, and the design was inspired by his company’s prior experience as UAS operators in the U.S. Army. “The technology we’ve developed- we want to see it used to help people around the world, and I think we’ve shown that it can.”
Haiyan left as many as 7,986 people dead or missing across the Philippines, according to a recent government tally. Much of the country is still recovering from the massive disaster, and bodies are still reportedly lying under the rubble. “It was a demanding environment, and it certainly pulled at the heartstrings,” remarked Rayleigh, “but it has to be done.”