Robotics whiz partners with Montreal company on software for humanitarian aid workers

Montreal, QC – Robotics whiz and Polytechnique Montréal postdoctoral fellow David St‑Onge is the recipient of the 5,000th Mitacs internship in Quebec, thanks to an innovative research project involving software for piloting a fleet of drones designed to aid in humanitarian relief efforts.

Throughout his career, the robotics and structural engineer has developed various technologies as part of academic, commercial, and artistic projects, to meet the specific needs of a broad range of milieus, including theatre, museums, television, and media arts.

Through a Mitacs fellowship, funded by the Government of Quebec and the Government of Canada, David is partnering with experts from Humanitas Solutions, a Montreal-based IT company specializing in assisting humanitarian organizations. Together, they are designing on‑board computers which, when added to drones, will make them easier to pilot remotely, even in the absence of a conventional network.

Emergency responders require in-depth knowledge of the crisis zone, as well as up-to-date information on structures and the condition of the road network in areas where victims are located or where there are potential threats. Collecting and sharing such information is a real challenge, especially in hostile environments where, more often than not, there is no reliable network infrastructure.

Piloting drones currently used by humanitarian organizations requires extensive training and expertise. What makes David’s research innovative is that it involves developing software that can be adapted to existing drones and will enable aid workers, without any specialized training, to easily fly them using readily available devices such as tablets or smart phones.

“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,” explains David. Drones equipped with the software developed by David and the team Humanitas Solutions will form a constellation of communication satellites to efficiently connect humanitarian workers in crisis zones.

These drones will be able to map out locations and infrastructure in real time, assess building safety, and carry data and materials such as videos, task lists, medication, and emergency kits. The ground‑breaking software will be provided to relief organizations free of charge.“We hope to empower emergency teams to help them save more lives. I really think we can make a difference with our software and help our partners improve their relief efforts,” says David. 

The Elevate fellowship awarded to David marks the 5000th internship in Quebec.

Additional quote:

Eric Bosco, Chief Business Development Officer, Mitacs

“Through Mitacs internships, university researchers like David are playing vital roles in helping local companies like Humanitas Solutions solve R&D challenges that impact the lives of Canadians. David’s internship showcases the exceptional research taking place in Quebec’s post-secondary institutions.”

Quick facts:

  • Mitacs is a national, not-for-profit organization that has designed and delivered research and training programs in Canada for 17 years.
  • Working with 60+ universities, thousands of companies, and both federal and provincial governments, Mitacs builds partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada.
  • Open to all disciplines and all industry sectors, projects can span a wide range of areas, including manufacturing, business processes, IT, social sciences, and design.
  • Mitacs is funded by the Government of Canada, the Government of Quebec, along with university and industry partners.