Drones that save lives: the incredible story of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station

Abstract: a wealthy couple (he is American, she Italian) bought, equipped and crewed a boat (christened MOAS: Migrants Offshore Aid Station) and is rescuing migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean sea from Africa into Europe (normally Sicily). Many people do this, and tens of thousands have died trying (learn more from a great data journalism enquiry). Since migrants tend to use small boats, too low to have a radar footprint, MOAS locates them with long-range drones.

This reminds me of a recent conversation with @trythis. Should we maybe look a little deeper into drone technology? I can think of a number of uses for an EdgeDrone, from documentation to recon in places like Nepal. I wonder what @hexayurt and @Matthias think…


Yes! Given the damage drones did …

… it’s about time drones save some lives and do some good. As for uses for drones in Nepal:

  • Example of drone recon in Nepal after the earthquake (quite drastic HD footage near the epicenter).
  • When we were in Bhorle village in the hills this week, an idea of using drones to connect the villages crossed my mind repeatedly. Their problem is: they are on neighboring hills with a valley in between, just 20 foot minutes or 5 bike minutes apart if there was a straight way, but instead it's 2 hours walking and climbing on rocky terrain without proper tracks or even stairs. I'm pretty sure drones are of no use here and it's just a first-world pseudo-solution … but I still hope they could be used to distribute medicines, small tools and parts etc. between the villages. With longer-range drones, it would be useful even for the very remote villages here (which are 4 days of walking to reach the nearest car-navigable street).

For illustration: Photo one of the kids in Bhorle took when we were there. The next village is barely visible in the top right corner. Deep valley and river in between.


Drones - walk the talk

@Matthias yeah I am tired of hearing what good drones could do but never seem to get around to actually doing. For example Nepal is not terribly far away from Pakistan where we know there is lots of drones loitering around. Many of them could have hopped over to Nepal with at max one stop-over for refueling in no time flat. I may have missed some (thanks for the link @alberto ), but so far I haven’t seen many of the unambiguously beneficial uses exploited a whole lot. And some of them have been blindingly obvious in the last couple of weeks, and really not difficult to get at least working on.

I don’t want to belittle the fact that there are many small initiatives all over the place, and in most cases there is a LOT more work going on inside than meets the eye. One of the problems I have though is that if large sums of government money are to be spent on such a technology - that obviously has a significant and very complex societal impact - we don’t seem to bother to discuss it in an effective manner. Such an attempt would include the people that make the tech, the people that operate it, and - very important - the ones affected by it. Before we produce all the facts. With drones we are looking at a very wide range of outcomes we could end up with, some of them very difficult or impossible reverse. Also we should be aware of a problem’s roots, even when we feel compelled to fight the symptoms. We need to keep track of the externalities of a technology, and stay realistic.

At the moment all money pretty much goes exclusively to the usual suspects. How can civil society, at least parts of the “global south”, or women’s voices be heard and considered in such a process? When would this be done if not in the early stages of making the concepts? Are the current practices established in industry conducive to such a process (large mil ind complex organizations elbowing for money)? How is their track record of managing such programs, that need to stay flexible and permeable to tackle a field full of unknown unknowns (and un-unknow some knowns in the process) - to say it with the words of Rumsfeld and Žižek, respectively.

Of course it won’t be simple and it won’t be without friction, but if I weigh this against the societal cost of opportunity, and ER’s chance to help connect and guide many center actors through a very dynamic edge - the problem has our name written all over it. I would love to hear other people’s perception on this before I publish the next steps I could envision this taking. I am not only looking at @Marc @francesco210173 @Baptiste_Labat but expressly into the social/gender direction (@noemi , @SamarAli , others - it is not super urgent but perhaps you know someone you can nudge when you are a little less busy than you must be now?)



I have some 150 pages of recent high-level talk of the established stakeholders at the German government, which I’ll start to go through (conveniently linked to from here). I expect this is where we’ll most easily identify typical organizational blind-spots and see what the motivation of each of the stakeholders is defined by.

If someone could do something similar for France, or Italy (or Britain, or any other place really) I’d be happy to compare our findings.

I’ve also begun to dig into the blog scene of people who know about the military (including technical details) but have remained very critical of it. There are a few and they seem relatively tightly networked - though there’s not much commentary. I did another skim of DIY drones, and have lots and lots of technical detail, and a large collection of US defense industry talks which will help understand better how they work in general, and again, provide blind spots, as well as arguments á la: If THEY received THAT amount of funding for this BS, it’ll border on criminal neglect not to give us seed fund at least.

Prob Vinay

Ping @hexayurt maybe also @LucasG. I’m quite curious about this and can maybe look for some stuff in Sweden. @Asta has looked at space debris, but maybe she knows of people exploring this. Possibly @Smari will know of people doing relevant work.

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Sweden connection

This dude is probably one of the ones you’d be looking for:


If he has a connection to Saab Aerospace - you’d probably cover a lot of ground on that basis. I have an old Saab connection but it is probably too old (also as in senior) to be worth much: http://www.lighterarena.se/media/177375/pontus_nordin_saab.pdf

How can we help?

@trythis I am just catching up on this thread. It seems to me you are progressing into an initial writeup/pitch.

How can we help? Pro tip: I am not sure the community (myself included) will completely understand your hints. What does it mean to “hear other people’s perception on this”, and “expressly into the social/gender direction”?  For example: do you want to organize a “special edition” community call, taking some time and effort to evoke the “right” people? We could probably help with this.

suppose I could attempt to connect us with the Italian govt. I even have (exactly three) high-level contacts, but they are all in economic policy making, not in defence. I can shoot an email, but I need to tell them what I am looking for. Can you help me understand?

Slowly, slowly

Easy does it :slight_smile:

I think the “special edition community call” will happen but not as next step. I’ll try to assemble some info into a really short pitch - perhaps multiple pitches.

Most likely what I’ll do is something like a presentation of 10-15 slides with narration of project concepts, and some more explanation in the appendix to get people who are new to the topic onto the same page.

If I get the impression we have a fighting chance to reach “critical mass” for some sort of project (with various ways and degrees of participation), I’ll try to frame it in a more orthodox way. I’ll try to shoot for something that can start small, but demonstrates potential impact, and a path to ramp it up.

Regarding “gender / other peoples perception”:

I’ll take one step back.

In my opinion drones are at the point where many of the non-innovative, technologically skeptical, and clueless parts of society have decided that drones will play a significant role in the future*. I am not sure how large this part will actually be. I think it is a pretty complex problem, but that is a story for later.

Now of course some actors smell a bigger market or faster ROI than others. These are likely to push for funding and policy changes (FAA & EASA), which may end up making alternative routes of development difficult or impossible. As drones have been largely developed in a military environment, this defines the perspective of many of these early players (to some degree) at least.

However: We’re about to introduce drones into many of our everyday lives - not just over the heads of an enemy army. We need to bring diverse public interests to the table. And we need to involve people into design decisions somehow. The reference to gender was because my impression has been that the female views don’t seem to have a lot of traction in this. Nadia gave a good exception - but it has very few views. Here I am not talking so much about a lack of female engineers working on drones (quite a few do). I am more thinking about the global (especially: informal) economic activity that represents a large fraction of economic activity in developing nations. Also, I am thinking of female equality / empowerment / safety aspects which could be addressed more effectively if their voices were represented throughout the process.

*Outside of the military.

They will definitely play a role on the battlefield - probably an important one. To be honest this is a field I am interested as well, because technology can often make military conflict significantly more “humane” or less “humane”. And it often indirectly influences general power structures significantly over time. I think it is worthwhile to look at this - but I also think 99% of the time, 99% of the drones should be busy doing something less ambiguously beneficial. That is what I’d like to concentrate on in the context of edgeryders. If we can tap into bloated and headless defense budgets to do this (and save social budgets for other projects) it may merit a discussion.

Just came across this article about how the Chinese use drones against cheating during exams. laugh

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I can’t say this use will make me love drones

But it is a good example of things most would not think of. It also illustrates to what degree a technological “arms race” can influence society, and policies. Apparently they needed a mobile sensor to scan the environment for transmissions into the classroom.

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Reflections on drones affecting relation to physical space

although not available for free, these friend of a friend’s fictions and reflections on how drones might change culture, behaviour and our relation to physical space in the near future might be good food for thought. I find the urbanist/architect take particularly interesting, since considering how soon-to-be-inconspicuous drones might build/change the function and meaning of a living space feels accessible (both in imagining it, and shaping it, since there’s no drone policing/governance yet).

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Good new leads - thanks!

Those were blips that did not make it on my radar before - perhaps because they are more coming from an architect/design/society angle to this. I’ll try to see if I can get a quick look inside the book somewhere to judge whether it is worth the money for me. Did you see the BAE ARGUS surveillance video I linked to somewhere? If you used that for city planning/zoning it would be a very powerful tool - for good OR bad. I have difficulties believing we will collectively abstain from it on some moral grounds, especially in large cities.

The more security concerned (but bottom-up) side is covered pretty fairly well from here (though the blog slowed down a lot). It still has a lot of good recommended reading.

What I’d like to see is more info from the sustainable development and agri crowd. I know of “the reforestation project”, but I am sceptical. I am particularly looking for the less formal and organized (lobby) voices.

Some more leads

Will get in touch with David Windestål, thanks looks interesting :slight_smile:

Ashley Dara does hardware in extreme environments and has done work in Nepal ping @Matthias. (thank you @Jean_Russell for the suggestion).

Another one  is Emily Jacobi https://youtu.be/sf-2J0crYTQ

Another lead came through a Swedish connection, Will Slackfield https://www.facebook.com/willsackfield

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Here is how drones will be useful in Poland though I know it’s not relevant. Sorry not sorry :stuck_out_tongue:

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I think this is very relevant!

It is an extremely good example of the moral and practical challenges faced. And it addresses an issue that in not so far on the male side of the spectrum…

Thanks for that - how did you find it?

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Thanks @trythis I relax by checking my friends’ news feed on fb…i guess i follow the right people :wink:

I. Love. This!

Whaaat? This is genius… smiley

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I know, right @Alberto? I used to live in Poland and this was a real issue there. Women had to travel to Germany every time to get an abortion. I was so surprised and it seemed to be such a  hypocrisy considering Poland is in EU and so progressive otherwise.

Like people would sin in every possible way - getting drunk, lying, cheating,etc and then go pray on Sundays in the church and consider themselves righteous Christians. So how come abortion is not legal I would wonder?

But it doesn’t surprise me any more, religious hypocrisy is the same everywhere - also in Armenia/Georgia(“cradles of Christianity”) and Morocco(a 100% Muslim country).

Taking shape

Hey people interested in co-creation:

There is a drone-challenge for a civil application out now. It has just started, more info:


What’s the next move?

Welcome back, @trythis.

Well, I am way out of my depth. But will help as I can, of course. How can we help? Would you like a dedicated community call, see who’s out there who can pool skills? Anything else?