More Drones Take Flight to Help in Hurricane Recovery, Relief Efforts

Posted On September 23, 2017 By Protolabs
search and rescue drone in Houston
A drone’s-eye view of recent flooding in a residential area of Houston. Photo Courtesy: The Urban Edge

On several fronts, commercial and government drones are playing key roles in recovery and relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston and Southern Texas, and in the path of Hurricane Irma in Florida.

Helping with Infrastructure

In Houston, more than 100 separate authorizations for emergency drone activities were issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. Drones are being used for inspecting roadways; checking railroad tracks; assessing the condition of water plants, oil refineries, and power lines; and, in some cases, helping to get the electrical grid up and running again in areas crews could not access.

Flying for the Red Cross

In addition, as part of disaster relief efforts by the American Red Cross, the organization plans to start using drones over Houston to find areas still in need of assistance. The pilot program will be the first “drone-centric” disaster relief program in the country, Fortune reports.

The one-week test involves one drone flying over one of the worst-hit parts of the city, which will help the agency assess damage and divert aid and resources as needed. The Red Cross will use a drone made by Massachusetts-based CyPhy Works that is tethered to a power supply and can fly up to 400 feet in the air. The same approach may also be used in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

drone used in hurricane relief efforts
An aerial drone image of freeway flooding in Houston. Photo Courtesy: Fox News Tech
Assisting Insurance Industry

Meanwhile, fleets of commercial drones are being deployed over Houston and other parts of Texas by insurance companies to assess billions of dollars in damage and accelerate payouts for policyholders.

George Mathew, chairman and CEO of Kespry, a California-based drone company, said, “Harvey is a seminal moment for the (drone) industry.”

Farmers Insurance plans to use Kespry drones to assess damage in a joint effort with on-the-ground claims adjusters. Kespry drones fit in a carrying case packed in the trunk of a claim adjuster’s car.

Allstate expects its drone fleet to make thousands of flights a week in damaged areas once its claims processing becomes fully operational.

The Drone Market

The emerging use of drones for recovery and relief efforts makes sense given the growth and accessibility of commercial and consumer drones. One recent industry estimate expects sales of drones to surpass $12 billion by 2021.

Companies large and small have been building drones for consumer, commercial, law enforcement, and defense use. Lockheed Martin, the global aerospace and technology giant, is one example that Protolabs has worked with, providing rapid prototyping and low-volume injection molding production for Lockheed’s small, fold-up, 5-pound Indago Quadcopter, which took flight last year. View a video case study of this project here.