Camera-equipped drones built by Aeryon Labs Inc. of Waterloo are now in the sky over Nepal, cutting time in the effort to bring relief to victims of a powerful earthquake that struck on Saturday.

“The story is not about these (drones) flying and taking pictures,’’ said Rahul Singh, Director of GlobalMedic, a Toronto-based aid agency. “The story is about how those pictures told me about the blockage in the road that I didn’t lose five hours on.”

Working with Monadrone – a European partner – and GlobalMedic, Aeryon dispatched three “small unmanned aerial vehicles” (sUAVs) to Nepal earlier this week. They were accompanied by an Aeryon pilot.

BBC Click posted a video showing the drones at work.

The drones can carry thermal cameras to detect body heat. They also have technology from Aeryon that allows cameras to zoom in on a feature as small as a face from 300 metres (1,000 feet).

In a disaster, Singh said, crews typically head out in pickup trucks equipped with generators and extra batteries for the drones. When the drones return for a battery change, the crews collect the data packs and upload the images to Dropbox.

Aid agencies stitch the images together to build maps, Singh said. Mapping saves time.

“There is nothing worse than driving five miles down a road, knowing you’ve got thousands of people in need, and you come to landslide you can’t get by,” Singh said in interview with Communitech News. “You’ve lost all that time, and you’ve got to go back. It’s horrible.”

Singh, a paramedic, used a 911 call as an analogy on the importance of working with good information. If somebody phones and hangs up before giving details about a broken ankle, emergency services come out in force – an inefficient use of resources. If the caller mentions the broken ankle, the response can be planned and measured.

“Make no mistake, Nepal has called a global 911,’’ he said. “These photos, these images from the UAVs, (make up) the information that allocates resources. And if we do it well, it means more lives will be saved – no ifs, no ands, no buts.”

About The Author

Christian Aagaard

Christian Aagaard was a newspaper journalist for more than 30 years before setting out on his own in 2012. Now he works as a freelance writer helping for-profit and non-profit organizations tell their stories.