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Drone technology rises to meet global challenges

A drone hovers during the Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship/i4Series networking event on October 1 at Paladin Stadium.

As our understanding of drone technology deepens, look to the sky for life-saving emergency supplies and critical data about infectious diseases.

Suresh Muthukrishnan, Furman professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, spoke about those and other ways drones can meet global challenges at the the Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship/i4Series networking event on Oct. 1 in the Paladin Stadium President’s Box.

Suresh Muthukrishnan, professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and director of GIS and Remote Sensing Center.

Muthukrishnan, who is also the director of the GIS and Remote Sensing Center, studies geospatial technologies – geographic information systems, satellite images and drones – to address social issues and has been instrumental in implementing an immersive and engaging GIS and remote sensing curriculum at Furman.

As a Fulbright U.S. Scholar from 2017 to 2018 in Malawi, he worked on bringing drones and GIS together to identify hotspots for cholera outbreaks. Malawi also has a humanitarian drone testing corridor, which is exploring how drone technologies can benefit the public.

Muthukrishnan is currently partnering with UNICEF and Virginia Tech to design and implement the African Drone and Data Academy in Malawi. The goal of the academy is to teach local students and professionals to build low-cost drones and train them with data analysis skills to use the drones for a variety of applications that assist the government and local communities.

During his presentation, Muthukrishnan encouraged 80+ local business leaders and drone enthusiasts to use their expertise and drone licenses to make a positive social impact. He outlined several global priorities in drone services and business opportunities:

  • Drones for global health and supply-chain management. The use of drones to supply medicine, vaccines, blood samples for testing or blood for transfusions from urban centers and labs to remote villages lacking proper transportation or medical analytical facilities.
  • Drones for emergency response, disaster response and recovery during major floods or other natural hazards to reach areas that are totally disconnected from the rest of the world due to damaged transportation networks. Drones can help carry out on-demand surveys and locate people who need help, provide critical supplies for stranded people and help map the terrain in 3D for logistics teams to use.
  • Creating a drone ecosystem that integrates teaching, training, local capacity building, applications and sustainability. This will create a professional network of companies, donors, non-governmental organizations, communities, workers and government entities toward making best use of the technologies available and enhancing business opportunities.



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