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.”

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Comment by Patrick Meier on March 30, 2014 at 10:53pm

Great work, many thanks for sharing, Stephen. Here are other Drone/UAV disaster mapping projects in the Philippines that I'm in touch with, may be of interest:

You may also be interested in the Humanitarian UAV Network, which brings all these groups together:

Thanks again for sharing

Comment by Stephen Rayleigh on March 31, 2014 at 12:23am

The first link was the one we were involved with. We took the torch from those guys, and they went back after we left. They're troopers, to be sure! Unforgettable experience, and I hope we can help again in the future. I am a member of 

Comment by Patrick Meier on March 31, 2014 at 12:27am

Fantastic, really great to hear you're connected with Matthew, Chuck, Ted, et al. Yes, great team indeed. Ted and company are back in the Philippines now. Many thanks for joining UAViators.

Comment by Gary Mortimer on March 31, 2014 at 1:08am

Really nice Puma Stephen ;-)

Comment by Stephen Rayleigh on April 4, 2014 at 1:12pm

I don't know how much a Puma costs, but I'm sure we couldn't afford it! This is the Lynx, which we made ourselves. As a mapping platform, it's a dream to use. Flies for over an hour, and deep-stalls to land. 

Comment by Gary Mortimer on April 4, 2014 at 1:25pm

Looks great Stephen, I think it speaks to the Puma in design ;-)


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