Drones and Augmented Reality -Powerful Tools when Disaster Strikes

Drones and Augmented Reality -Powerful Tools when Disaster Strikes

In 2015, flooding in the United States caused $3 billion in damage and led to hundreds of deaths (US National Climatic Data Center). During a natural disaster, every tool is needed to reduce suffering and save lives. Rapid Imaging Software, Inc. recently demonstrated that video captured with a small drone equipped with Powered by SmartCam3D, augmented reality software can have a big impact on disaster relief.

Powered by SmartCam3D adds augmented reality (AR) overlays to live or recorded video, making it useful before, during and after a natural disaster. The flight was conducted by Bird’s Eye Solutions using a DJI Phantom 3 at Steuben Wisconsin on the Kickapoo River during a flood on September 24, 2016.


Augmented reality (AR) has become a household phrase due to mobile apps and games. In this application, augmented reality blends map data and other useful information onto video captured from a drone. The video may be viewed by the drone/camera operator.  However if drone video is distributed via a network, then everyone involved in relief operations can watch the video in real time.  The advantage is that augmented reality allows all users to see and agree on what is (or is not) in the video.  AR overlays assist the viewer to answer questions such as: Where am I looking?  What am I looking at?

In the critical moments after a disaster, the first concern is to save lives and assess the extent of the damage.  Equipped with a small drone and AR the pilot or camera operator can do the following:

·         Mark locations to search for survivors.

·         Scout the extent of the damage and send information about closed bridges and roads to the command center. 

In the video link below, the bridge on Bridge Street is submerged, but the street name is shown as is the nearest intersection with AR overlays. Armed with this information, dispatchers can direct rescue teams via the best route. In addition, since the street is identified in the video there is no confusion about which bridge is in the view.  Emergency services can be routed efficiently and the public can be warned away from the area.

As the disaster recedes and it is time to restore services augmented reality can assist in the following ways.

·         Show locations of storm drains to be checked for debris.

·         Show Identifiers for power line poles. Poles will show in the correct location whether or they are still standing.

·         Locations of fire hydrants, gas main valves and more may show as overlays.

If drone video is recorded, it provides information for engineers, communities and city managers as they plan and prepare for future disasters. For example both ends of the bridge are marked in the video to show the extent of flooding, important information when the bridge is repaired or rebuilt.

Mike Abernathy, Founder and Director of Technology for Rapid Imaging Software notes, “I have been refining augmented technology for 23 years for a variety of uses. AR for disaster relief is an important tool and I believe it will save thousands of lives in the next decade.”

Powered by SmartCam3D augmented reality software is used with a variety of unmanned systems from: DJI drones through tactical unmanned aircraft systems.  This patented technology is cloud based and compatible with a variety of operating systems and devices.


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