Humanitarian Future - Robots that help
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Humanitarian Future – Robots That Help

As technology advances, so does its positive impact in the world of humanitarian aid. Some of the most significant trends today include robotics, big data, and biometric data. Last week, our series on “humanitarian future” discussed the use of Artificial Intelligence by aid workers. Today, let’s take a look at how robots can help in humanitarian response.

Robots for humanitarian aid

There is a variety of ways in which robots can be of use for humanitarian aid workers. Often, it is too dangerous to send humans in for recovery. Humanitarians may risk their lives participating in certain operations.

Instead, robots can provide a safer and more efficient alternative. Many can be operated remotely so that humans can observe their actions from afar through live streaming. These include “Remotely Operating Vehicles” (ROV) and “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” (UAV), more commonly known as drones.

So, what can these do? For example, UAVs can take satellite images of an area to assess the impact of a disaster. They can also deliver aid to places where humans cannot access. Meanwhile, ROVs can go through debris and participate in search and rescue missions. Robots can even go to more volatile environments, such as de-mining in post-conflict zones.

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Also, there are other types of robots that humanitarians can use. Some use artificial intelligence and can provide support services to people in need. Of course, these cannot replace human compassion. But it is possible to provide more long-term monitoring than the often-scarce humanitarian resources can offer.

Concerns around using robotics for humanitarianism

As with most new technologies, various issues arise when using robots for humanitarian purposes. The biggest one is around ethics. When we send a non-human to help those in need, do we take away the spirit of compassion and the emotional intelligence needed to provide real help?

On the other hand, robots can also be a safety concern, particularly in conflict zones. Because some military equipment uses unmanned robotic devices, it is easy to get confused between humanitarian and offensive robots. So, it is generally advisable to avoid the use of robots in conflict zones, despite their potential for positive impact.

Further, the use of robotics can be expensive. As the aid sector relies on donations, new technologies are often challenging to streamline through funding and bureaucracy. It also usually means that the humanitarian sector is left behind in innovation, compared to private companies.

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Humanitarian robots today

Aid workers are using robots more and more for a more effective response in the field. Here are some examples.

Guardian GT

The Guardian GT robot provides rescue and disaster recovery support. It can assess complex situations and evaluate unstable environments. At the same time, it can work with precision and stamina in dangerous areas.

This means reducing the number of people exposed to this type of risks. For example, the Guardian GT is handy after earthquakes for search and rescue operations.

WeRobotics

With several programs, WeRobotics aims to improve aid, health, and environmental efforts. The organization specializes in using robotics and Artificial Intelligence for this task. WeRobotics develops robots that fly, drive or swim to support decision-making and for direct humanitarian action.

Also, the organization creates local knowledge hubs in lower income countries. Called Flying Labs, these hubs are meant as a catalyst to accelerate knowledge building and development.

RoboCup

Did you know that there is a competition to see who can make a better robot for disaster response? The Rescue Robot League sees international teams competed by operating robots in simulated disaster areas. This type of initiatives can support innovation in the way robots help in emergencies.

Sterile Insect Technique

The UN International Atomic Energy Agency, together with WeRobotics and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization are using robots to fight mosquito-borne diseases. Their drone-based mechanism is working to apply the Sterile Insect Technique for insect population control.

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