Unmanned “Unplugged”

Charles Devaney, Linking the World

Charles Devaney is the director of Project HALO (Help and Locate Operations) at Linking the World. He recently won the Drone Social Innovation Award for his work in disaster response following Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Increasing Human Potential recently had the chance to catch up with Devaney and learn more about his work with UAS.

Can you tell us about how you used UAS in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan?

We used both fixed-wing and multirotor UAS in the wake of typhoon to assess the level of damage that was caused by the storm. The information was used by local government and municipalities in their efforts to rebuild. We also imaged hundreds of square kilometers of area to assess damages to natural resources, such as rice and coconuts.

How did you initially get interested in UAS technology?

I became interested in UAS tech while using tethered systems — kites with Picavet suspensions — to acquire imagery for classification of coastal environments. To alleviate the limitations of the tether, I began to explore the RC world for alternative platform options and purchased my first XAircraft quadrotor four years ago.

What is the focus of your research at the University of Hawaii? How does this apply to your other work?

The focus of my research at the University of Hawaii has been primarily in geospatial technologies, geographic information systems, remote sensing and the application of UAS in multiple disciplines. I have used UAS in the fields of archeology, botany, coastal geomorphology and coral reef mapping. I have just in the last year applied this technology to the world of humanitarian assistance and disaster response. It has all come together in such a way that I can build, operate, and maintain my own UAS and also process the imagery into accurate map products and provide analysis as well.

Your work has focused on getting survey UAS into the hands of first responders within 18 hours, including recently in the Philippines. What other work needs to be done in this area, and how do you work with first responders around the world during these disasters?

Yes, the first 18 to 24 hours are very critical in response to a disaster. The problem lies with the dissemination of information in an area with a communication network that has been compromised. Luckily in the Philippines we found a group from Manila who was able to help with distribution of imagery. Before we made that contact, the information was hand delivered to those who could use it.

Tell us a little about Linking the World. How is the organization involved in using UAS?

Linking the World is an international humanitarian aid organization that has worked in over 40 countries. After Typhoon Haiyan, I was on a panel at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where I presented the work I had done in Philippines using UAS. Linking the World’s CEO, Mina Chang, attended that panel with an interest in UAS and saw the value in the technology. Once we connected we decided to start a program within the organization called Project HALO, of which I am the director.

What did it mean to you to win the Drone Social Innovation Award, and what will you use the prize money for?

It was a huge honor to be a recipient of this award, especially after seeing the other projects that were presented at the Drone User Group Network conference in Texas. The money will be used for Project HALO.


You focus on the social good and the good that UAS can provide, yet they’re still misunderstood. What barriers to success to see to UAS, and what are the ways to get around them?

We certainly have something left to be desired in the eyes of many out there in terms of how we apply this technology. Most of us in the UAS community are working to change the national conversation on UAS technology. This means acknowledging the ethical issues that seem to keep surfacing, like spying on the neighbor or flying multirotors over large crowds.

We need to establish standards in safety and reliability in these UAS platforms through modeling and simulation. We need to continue to educate the general public in the good uses of this technology. Most of us in the UAS community welcome fair regulation of these systems that is supposed to be established by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).

Do you have any exciting projects coming up?

One of my current projects is sharing this technology with countries we currently work with at Linking the World as a part of project HALO. We wish to educate local municipalities about the technology as an effort in capacity building for disaster preparedness. I have many projects, too many to mention, but one in the works is a Navy biofuels project on the island on Maui.