How Drones Are Being Used In Zanzibar’s Fight Against Malaria

By Andy Hardy, Aberystwyth University | November 22, 2017 11:05 am
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Makame Makame from the Zanzibar Malaria Elimination Programme holds one of the drones used to map malaria vectors. (Credit: Andy Hardy)

On a typically hot and humid July day in Stonetown, the capital of Zanzibar, a gaggle of children, teenagers and the odd parents watched our small drone take flight. My colleagues Makame Makame, Khamis Haji and I had finally found the perfect launch spot.

With a high-pitched humming, the drone took to the air. It sounded like a big mosquito—appropriate, since we were testing the use of drones for mapping aquatic malaria habitats. These shallow sunlit water bodies teem with mosquito larvae. In a matter of days, the larvae will emerge as adult mosquitoes in search of a blood meal. If one of those mosquitoes bites a human infected with malaria, it will become a vector for the disease and continue its deadly transmission cycle.

Zanzibar is a Tanzanian archipelago off the coast of East Africa. Both it and mainland Tanzania have fought a long, well documented battle with malaria. Globally, the disease infects over 200 million people annually and is responsible for killing approximately 500,000 people each year.

The Millennium Development Goals prompted a number of large scale campaigns across sub-Saharan Africa to combat malaria. Millions of bed nets were distributed. Insecticide was supplied to spray in homes across communities. The aim was to stop people getting bitten, interrupting the transmission cycle.

It’s been a real success story, leading to a notable decrease in the disease’s prevalence. Some areas of Zanzibar have seen prevalence levels drop from 40 percent of the population having malaria to less than 1 percent.

Now epidemiologists and public health managers are looking to complement indoor-based nets and spraying with outdoor based solutions. In effect, they’re taking the battle to mosquitoes. And drones are a crucial part of their armory. One of the main challenges to disease managers is finding small water bodies that mosquitoes use to breed. This is where drones come in—for the first time, drone imagery can be captured over large areas which can be used to create precise and accurate maps of potential habitats.

Tracking Mosquitoes

We know that once an adult mosquito has fed and rested, it will typically go in search of a mate. Then it moves on to a suitable location—an aquatic habitat like the fringes of river channels, roadside culverts and irrigated rice paddies—to lay its eggs.

Public health authorities need to be able to locate and map these water bodies so they can be treated using a larvicide like DDT. This process is known as larval source management, and was successfully used in Brazil and Italy many decades ago. There, the DDT killed mosquito larvae—but could also be devastating for local ecology as well as having adverse effects on human health.

Today much safer, low toxicity replacements have been developed. The problem is that they come at a cost. Resources are also needed to disseminate the larvicide and to locate the water bodies that host the mosquito eggs and larvae. Some of these hideaways are tough to find on foot, and if water bodies aren’t accurately mapped a larvicide campaign could end up being a waste of time.

My institution, Aberystwyth University in Wales, is working with the Zanzibar Malaria Elimination Programme to fly drones over known malaria hot spots.

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A rice paddy in Mwera, Zanzibar, captured with a DJI Phantom 3 drone. These and other watery sites are perfect spots for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. (Credit: Andy Hardy)

In 20 minutes, a single drone is able to survey a 30 hectare (74 acre) rice paddy. This imagery can be processed and analysed on the same afternoon to locate and map water bodies. This has proved to be highly accurate and efficient. This is all using one of the most popular off-the-shelf drones, the Phantom 3 made by DJI. These are about the size of a shoebox, weighing a little more than a bag of sugar (about 2.6 pounds) and are used throughout the world for both leisure and commercial photography.

We started off working in test locations across Zanzibar but now, with the support of the Innovative Vector Control Consortium—a non-for-profit partnership aiming to create novel solutions for preventing disease transmission—we’re widening our range to explore how this technology can be incorporated into operational malaria eliminating activities.

It doesn’t stop there. We plan to incorporate the drone imagery into smartphone technology to help guide larvicide spraying teams to water bodies on the ground, and to track their progress and coverage. There’s also an exciting drive toward automatically disseminating larvicide from the drones themselves.

Getting People Involved

Despite these exciting advances, operators need to be mindful of the negative side of drones: invasion of privacy; collisions with aircraft and birdlife; their association with warfare. These are very real concerns for the public.

In Zanzibar, we worked alongside village elders to show them the drones and explain exactly what we plan to use them for. We also encouraged people to gather around when we were looking at live-feed footage from the drone’s onboard camera.

Above is a collation of drone imagery recorded using a DJI Phantom 3 over a range of sites across Zanzibar.

The ConversationThis introduced people to our work and gave them a chance to see how drones and similar technologies, used alongside traditional indoor-based interventions, can really help to make malaria elimination in their community a reality.

 

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology

Scientist Wants to Replicate Google Street View With Drones

By Lauren Sigfusson | November 7, 2017 4:07 pm
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(Credit: Shutterstock)

Google Street View can pretty much show you every location in the world, even the Faroe Islands thanks to camera-yielding sheep, from the ground. While Satellite View shows us a large-scale aerial of the world, what about what’s in between?

Gregory Crutsinger, a scientist who’s worked for drone companies like 3D Robotics and Parrot, recently started a UAV consulting company called Drone Scholars and is leading a citizen scientist drone project called Fly4Fall. The project’s goals: to survey fall leaves across the world and test crowdsourcing drone data. The bigger goal: to create Google Street View in the sky with drone images. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Top Posts

Robot Aces Water-to-Air Transition

By Lauren Sigfusson | October 26, 2017 11:13 am

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Another day, another bioinspired drone. But this microrobot, powered through a wire tether, can launch itself through the air and into water — then blast itself back into the air.

Harvard researchers have been working on bee-like robots for years, and a new study published Wednesday in Science Robotics shows more advancement. Scientists showed the little bot could successfully hover in the air, transition from air to water, swim, takeoff from the water and land on the water, according to the paper. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Top Posts, Uncategorized

Albatross Teaches Drones the Art of Marathon Flights

By Lauren Sigfusson | October 18, 2017 1:33 pm
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(Credit: Shuttershock)

We’ve seen drones modeled after geckos, insects and if you’ve watched Black Mirror there’s no way you can forget the massive bee drone swarms. Now, scientists are looking to one of nature’s best fliers, the albatross, for tips to help drones fly longer distances.

The albatross is one of the world’s largest living birds, with a wingspan of up to 11 feet across. It can fly hundreds of miles in just one day, while exerting very little effort. But how does it do this? Two separate groups of researchers discovered two very different reasons for this species’ long-lasting flights. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, drones, robots

Will Earth’s Lava Flows Decipher Ancient Mars’?

By K. N. Smith | October 13, 2017 11:54 am
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Drones are helping scientists understand Earth’s lava flows, which could tell us more about ancient Mars. (Credit: Shuttershock)

Lava flow: an unstoppable destructive force that burns pretty much everything in its path. When a volcano erupts, it’s important that people in surrounding areas have adequate time to evacuate. To provide those crucial extra hours, or minutes, researchers are using drones to improve hazard predictions, and perhaps tell us something about life on ancient Mars.

Drones allow volcanologists to map large areas quickly, cheaply and, most of all, safely using magnetometers and thermal cameras. Scientists are even flying drones through eruption plumes to study the chemical composition of Earth’s hot, steamy belches. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

Drones Save Fawns From Terrible Fates

By Lauren Sigfusson | October 12, 2017 1:08 pm
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(Credit: Disney/Giphy)

Bambi: A classic children’s movie about a happy-go-lucky fawn that ultimately takes a turn for the worse. Unfortunately, real life is no walk in the park for young deer either.

Early in a fawn’s life, its mother will leave for extended periods to forage for food and ensure predators stay at bay, wildlife experts say. But nesting in farm fields can be deadly for fawns, as farmers often don’t see them before it’s far too late.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Uncategorized
MORE ABOUT: animals, drones, robots

We Learned A Lot from Whale Snot

By Lauren Sigfusson | October 10, 2017 4:09 pm
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A drone hovers for a few seconds in the whale’s blow to collect a sample.
(Credit: Michael Moore, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

While the SnotBot drone has been highly publicized for its aerial maneuvers over blowholes, its expeditions have yet to showcase some hard data about whales. But there’s another whale snot-gathering team out there using drones—and they’ve turned those misty explosions into some interesting biological data about whales.

After collecting humpback whale blow—the moist breath you see shoot into the air when a whale exhales—from two healthy populations, scientists found the creatures have a shared blowhole microbiome. The study, conducted by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), was released Tuesday in mSystems and represents the first study “to produce microbiome data from drone-collected blow,” according to lead author Amy Apprill. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, drones, robots

Drones Are Keeping Watch on the Arctic’s Polar Bear Population

By Lauren Sigfusson | October 4, 2017 3:46 pm
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That’s the spot! Thanks to drone technology, this polar bear was spotted getting cozy. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

Polar bears’ fortunes are deeply tied to the whims of a changing climate, and as the Arctic continues to warm it’s increasingly important to keep an eye on their populations. But the Arctic’s stark white terrain can make that a difficult task to accomplish.

In the past, helicopters have been used to spot the bears, but those aircraft are both costly and disturbing to the wildlife. However, drones are a low-cost, less invasive alternative. On a recent Arctic mission, drones helped gather data about polar bears that will help researchers get a better idea of how climate change in the region, and around the world, affects wildlife. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

New York’s Drone Superhighway Officially Launches

By Lauren Sigfusson | September 29, 2017 10:54 am
This is what SAFIRE looks like. Here you can see the package delivery routes for two different drones and numerous other data points that are important for pilots. (Credit: Screenshot from livestream)

This real-time 3D visualization includes flight path and numerous other data points that are important for pilots to know. (Credit: Screenshot, U-SAFE livestream)

Showcasing technology that could help usher in the era of commercial drones, the first phase of New York’s 50-mile long drone test corridor took place Thursday at Griffiss International Airport in Rome, New York.

Using NASA-led research, the Unmanned Aircraft System Secure Autonomous Flight Environment (U-SAFE) is a five-year program that will provide the infrastructure and resources to integrate drones into low altitude airspace. Drone detection and sensing company Gryphon Sensors is leading the initiative, with help from the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, New York State, and Griffiss International Airport. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: drones, robots

Drones Can Accurately Detect Heartbeats from the Sky

By Lauren Sigfusson | September 28, 2017 1:27 pm
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(Credit: Shutterstock)

Drones have the ability to do a lot of good, and recently they’ve been proving useful to rescuers in the United States by helping with hurricane recovery efforts. But what if they could do more than just document damage or survey areas? What if they could actually detect life?

Researchers from the University of South Australia conducted a study published in Biomedical Engineering Online that shows drones can successfully measure heart and respiratory rates from the sky. Aerially detecting vital signs could be huge for recovering people after natural disasters, detecting security threats, and monitoring infants and the elderly. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Top Posts, Uncategorized
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