Here’s How the Red Cross Is Using Drones for Disaster Relief

September 8, 2017, 3:02 PM UTC

The American Red Cross plans to start using drones over Houston to find areas still in need of assistance after Hurricane Harvey. The pilot program will be the first drone-centric disaster relief program in the country.

The one-week test will see officials deploy one drone over one of the worst hit parts of the city, which will help the agency assess damage and divert aid resources as needed. If the test goes well, the drone could be used to assess damage from Hurricane Irma after it slams into the U.S. (The storm is currently expected to make landfall near Miami on Sunday.)

Rather than using the types of drones most hobbyists fly, the Red Cross will be using one made by Massachusetts-based CyPhy Works that is tethered to a power supply and can fly up to 400 feet in the air.

Drone engineers have long envisioned the unmanned devices as useful tools in rescue operations. Two years ago at South by Southwest, companies showcased a number of drones and other robots that could be used as aid devices, including one, called Xfold, that was able to carry items weighing up to 17 pounds (roughly the weight of two gallons of water).

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