Report from the field: Nick Turner, UH Hilo geospatial analyst, reports on collaborative typhoon relief effort in the Philippines partially funded by the UH Hilo Office of the Chancellor.
The Office of the Chancellor at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is helping fund a relief effort initiative to survey damage inflicted by typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in the Philippines. Nick Turner, a geospatial analyst at the UH Hilo Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Laboratory and a UH Hilo graduate in geography and environmental science, has joined a team of researchers to help typhoon victims in the Philippines rebuild their communities.
Turner, as well as Chuck Devaney, a UH Mānoa graduate student in geography, and Iam Bouret, a Hawaiian Airlines pilot, are contributing to the project. Working collaboratively with a UAV organization in Manila called Skyeye, which is partly funded by the Ateneo de Manila University, the Hawai‘i team is contributing knowledge and skills on gathering data via remotely piloted aircraft systems, also called unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs. The data collected will be sent to the Red Cross and the World Bank to aid in reconstruction.
Here is an email update on the project to Chancellor Straney from Nick Turner, dated Jan. 24:
I wanted to send an update on things in the Philippines. Internet access is somewhat limited and time is precious with days spent mapping and nights spent repairing birds and flight planning for the next day.
Our journey began in Manila with Chuck Devaney from Mānoa and Iam Bouret a pilot from Hawaiian Airlines. We are working with a local UAV organization here called Skyeye which is partly funded by the Ateneo de Manila University. Over the course of four days we built three mapping aircraft. The aircraft were built from the ground up utilizing low cost hardware and equipping them with autonomous flight, live video transmission and mapping capabilities. One of the great things about the collaboration between the Hawaii team and the Philippines team is we learned so much from each other from specific build techniques to best radio frequency selection. We helped Skyeye add FPV (First Person View) capabilities to their aircraft which had a large impact on how they conduct their missions, allowing the ground crew to have live situational awareness and increase overall safety during flights.
After building aircraft in Manila we flew to the island of Panay and are working in the province of Aklan. This is a very rural area with much of the surrounding communities centered around the Aklan river system. The climate here reminds me of Hilo with thick rainforest, but a bit quieter without the coqui frogs!
Our mission here is to map the Aklan river which has swelled in the past and overwhelmed levees in certain areas much like Katrina did in New Orleans. The Aklan State University is hosting us while the University of Ateneo de Manila covered inter-island logistics. The researchers here are quite eager to see what we can do with UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) technology to help. The local government hopes to use our imagery for hazard analysis along the river and find areas that need barriers, dikes or dredging. They cannot prevent natural catastrophes, but hope to mitigate future damage. Even pre-super typhoon Yolanda had significant storms that caused the river to flood destroying thousands of homes. Although this area was not the hardest hit, it still has its share of Yolanda damage with many parts of the island still without power and large trees and power-lines down along the roadways. Every village we pass through tends to draw a curious crowd of onlookers, many have never seen a UAV before.
Field work has been challenging with the harsh environment. Finding suitable launch sites for missions and having luck with the weather has been the hardest. Today one of our of main aircraft had severe oscillation in auto mode. Luckily we have a talented team here and after half a day of troubleshooting the autopilot, we finally figured out it to be a software glitch from transferring flight plans between two ground stations, the problem was promptly fixed and our mapping continues tomorrow in Aklan.
For me this has been an amazing experience to see how much of an impact this technology can have in far away places. Hawaii shares close ties with the Philippines as a good portion of Hawaii residents have family here. Most of the people we encounter in our travels want to learn more about what we are doing and often gather during missions to watch our flights and cheer us on during sketchy landings. UAS are going to play an increasingly important role in places like this as it allows local leaders to make informed decisions, respond with resources quicker to where they are needed and make geospatial and remote sensing information more accessible to communities that need it.
The Hawaii UAS team would like to thank Chancellor Straney for supporting us in utilizing our technology skills in an impactful way for an area that needs it.
Photos courtesy of Nick Turner.