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OpenRelief Launches Open Source Disaster Relief Drone

By 2012-06-078月 22nd, 2017Blog

We’ll never forget last year’s LinuxCon Japan conference, which took place shortly after the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in March. As the country still reeled from the disaster, LinuxCon presenters discussed how open source software could contribute to disaster relief.

One year later, a team of developers has returned to LinuxCon in Yokohama this week to announce OpenRelief, a new project aimed at building a low-cost, remote-controlled robotic plane to report damage in hard-to-reach, disaster stricken areas.

OpenRelief DroneShane Coughlan, a consultant based in Western Japan and a co-founder of OpenRelief says he took his inspiration for the project from that LinuxCon discussion last year.

He was a volunteer driving relief supplies across the country and worked with aid agencies on remapping the disaster area using GPS. Access to hard hit areas was limited and information on road conditions was dangerous to obtain, he said.

When he shared his experience with the audience someone commented that it would be nice to devise a way to relay that information faster to the front lines. That got Coughlin thinking about a better solution.

The result was OpenRelief, a collaborative effort of 12 professionals from around the globe to create a prototype drone that can fly itself into and out of disaster zones to take photos and video and map roads, people and smoke. Sensors will measure weather conditions and radiation. That critical information can then be sent to relief workers on the ground.

It’s made with off-the-shelf components and uses a BeagleBoard or Raspberry Pi for its “brain,” said David “Lefty” Schlesinger, a spokesman for the project. They currently run Debian 6 on the BeagleBoard and are looking into Raspbian for the Raspberry Pi.

OpenRelief DroneThe plane is controlled by an Arduino board and ArduPilot autopilot software, Schlesinger said. And the camera’s images are interpreted by an on-board implementation of the OpenCV computer vision library.

A second-generation design for the airframe is underway (using Blender) and full designs and specifications will be made publicly available along with any custom code they develop.

All this for production costs under $1,000 per aircraft. The project has already built two prototypes and plans to go into production by December.

For more information or to get involved with the project, visit


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