Search impact stories
Video Content: 
March 2017

Humanitarian efforts aided by drones

At a glance
The team

David St-Onge, supervised by Professor Giovanni Beltrame, Department of Computer and Software Engineering at Polytechnique Montréal

The challenge

Flying drones for humanitarian efforts 

The solution

Creating new software for user-friendly piloting  

David St-Onge has a passion for robotics. Currently a postdoc at Polytechnique Montréal, David has spent more than 10 years researching robotics for both academic and commercial projects — and now he’s seeing his passion come to life.

Through a Mitacs Elevate fellowship with Humanitas Solutions, a Montreal start-up that partners with humanitarian organizations, David is working alongside a team of developers on an remotely piloted aircraft project that will one day play an important role in relief efforts for humanitarian organizations.

Drone technology is often used by organizations for aid, development, emergency response, and disaster preparedness. However, the aircrafts often require expertise and extensive training to operate. David’s project involves designing software that will make drones easier to fly, allowing humanitarian workers to pilot them without the need for a remote control or a lot of training. “Flying drones is quite complex and usually requires using experts. We don’t want humanitarian workers to have to worry about how to use them while they are out in the field,” says David.

Humanitas Solutions’ intelligent software will allow field workers to fly drones with devices they have readily available like a tablet or smart phone. Once the drones’ embedded intelligence is fully designed, they will be used by organizations to build communication networks to connect workers in areas where infrastructure is down, map locations in real time, scan buildings to assess their safety, and transport data, such as videos or maps.

The company’s ultimate goal is to provide free software and technology packages to humanitarian organizations to help their efforts. Working at a start-up means David’s colleagues share his enthusiasm for technology. “Everyone is really dynamic, really excited about the work they are doing, and open to ideas,” cites David. “I chose this project because of the work the company is doing with humanitarian organizations. I really think we can make a difference with our software and help our partners improve their relief efforts.

“Together, we hope to empower emergency teams and help them to save more lives.” With a job offer on the table following his fellowship, David is excited to see his research take flight.

Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada along with Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Nova Scotia, and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Elevate program.

This research is jointly supported by NSERC and Mitacs through a funding partnership.