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How can open source technology help us respond to natural disasters?

Collaborative development principles are increasing the social impact of technology

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Open source technology has the potential to change the way we respond to natural disasters. That’s because the freedom to use pre-existing code rather than build from scratch, and then share your own code for others to adapt enables speed, flexibility and impact.

For example, take an application like DroneAid. Developer Pedro Cruz saw firsthand the effects of Hurricane Maria as it ripped through Puerto Rico. Unable to reach his grandmother and worried about her safety, Cruz flew his drone to locate her. Cruz later said in an interview with IBM that “she actually waved at me, she was alright.” It was at the moment that he noticed hundreds of messages written on the ground by those in need of help — and it moved him to action.

DroneAid utilizes a standardized set of symbols that can be drawn with spray paint or chalk by disaster victims during a crisis and recognized by drones using visual recognition technology. The drones note the location of the symbols and then relay information back to relief organizations, condensing response times. By using pre-existing open source visual recognition components, Cruz was able to reduce development time and focus on his own areas of expertise.

Cruz decided to open-source DroneAid so that the application can be accessible to as many people as possible. Any developer can take DroneAid, an application designed for hurricanes, and tweak the code so that it can be applied and deployed for other disasters like wildfires or earthquakes. Because the code is shared, it’s easier to scale its impact.

DroneAid won the Call for Code® 2018 Puerto Rico Hackathon, which is supported by the IBM Code and Response™ initiative. Code and Response challenges developers from around the world to create open source solutions that help communities deal with natural disasters. In 2019, more than 180,000 developers participated in Code and Response and more than 5,000 applications were created.

Learn how you can get involved.

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