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Drones, 3D Printing, Climate Change and Humanitarian Aid: Technology for Good

DRONE_2.0_Summit_by_DataDroneJeff Bezos’ announcement that his company, Amazon, would use drones in the future to deliver its goods has sparked a lot of discussion about the use of this technology in the civilian world.  A significant portion of the media attention to drones up until this point has been on their use as weapons and the accidental targeting of civilians.

This is obviously only the beginning of how drones can and will become more integrated into our lives.  Somewhere between the discussion of drone-delivered pizza and the prevalence of remote controlled weapons is the use of this technology to help prepare for and respond to disasters and humanitarian crises.

This is not a new concept. In fact this technology is already hard at work mitigating climate and humanitarian risks. Here is an article on how “drones are poised to be new climate surveillance workhorses” and here is an essay on how drones can act as “predators for peace” by increasing access to hard-to-reach or conflict-ridden zones, both common characteristics in post-disaster and humanitarian relief operations. Drones were even recently used to help map the Colorado floods this September.

Drones are not the only new technology on the block that could help with reducing climate risks. We have written extensively on the potential of 3D printing (or additive manufacturing) to play an important role in a climate-stressed future by combining the solidity, durability and strength of the industrial age, with the nimbleness, flexibility and adaptability of the virtual age.

And certain 3D printers can already print drones! So advancements in one type of technology can spillover into others. Our full report on the subject is here: The 3D Printing Revolution, Climate Change and National Security: An Opportunity for U.S. Leadership. There is also a summary of it here and an even shorter video on the topic courtesy of Climate Desk here.

These technologies are just the tip of the iceberg.  In a previous post on climate change and technology, we looked at buoys that measure fluctuations in the oceans, robots that measure hurricanes, and the ability to lay water pipelines in difficult terrain with the aid of helicopters. Will Rogers, formerly of the Center for New American Progress, wrote a policy brief, Sentries in the Sky: Using Space Technology for Disaster Response, outlining how even the sky isn’t the limit on technological progress in addressing disasters.

With these advancements there are also risks, of course, so it will be extremely important for there to be institutional frameworks for managing the use of advancing technologies.  It is often said that we cannot build our way out of climate change. This is true, but as Einstein is reported to have said, we also “cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” These technologies offer a glimpse of the kinds of technological adaptations we will need more of in a climate-changed world.

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