The Good Drone Lab Earns More Accolades

A student-faculty team from SPP won a best paper award for their research on drones. Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick (SPP assistant professor) and Tautvydas Juskauskas (MPA '15) received the Best Paper Award for Technical Excellence at the Humanitarian Technology (HumTech 2015) conference in May. HumTech 2015 focuses on bringing innovative solutions to the humanitarian aid community. Their winning contribution—"Up in the Air: Applying the Jacobs Crowd Formula to Drone Imagery"—will be published as part of the conference proceedings.

HumTech gathers 200 participants in a focused three-day conference in Boston and attracts scientists, engineers, and policymakers from academia, government, industry, and the NGO world. "It was a terrific opportunity to meet and share ideas with people who are working with humanitarian technology, especially UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles)," said Juskauskas.

UAVs are now being used for a wide variety of tasks including humanitarian and disaster relief. As the Nepal earthquake has shown UAVs can be an important tool in the hands of people working in the humanitarian sector. There is often, however, a lack of coordination and understanding among stakeholders. "Our main aim is to look at how crowd estimation can facilitate humanitarian efforts. The analysis of a crowd risk as well as monitoring refugee camp flows are possible applications of our method. We would like to test it at the Kumbh Mela festival in India where a group of MIT researchers is testing other innovative solutions in order to control the flows of tens of millions of people," said Juskauskas.

"Our primary scholarly focus is slightly different though," explained Juskauskas. "What we are really interested in is the civil society use of drones—how they can be used to monitor human rights, environmental issues, for example. We think that UAVs can be an effective advocacy tool for NGOs—something they can use to raise awareness and collect information."

Choi-Fitzpatrick and Juskauskas started the Good Drone Lab at SPP. They have gone on to conduct research, support social movements, and have recently won an award from DJI, the industry-leading drone manufacturer. Their contribution won a "Share and Inspire" award in the Business category, something that is a source of pride for Choi-Fitzpatrick. "Our work is recognized for its commercial potential and its technical merit; two byproducts of our efforts to support social movements and open society—that's pretty cool."