October 18, 2017

Spatial technology and humanitarian aid

Members of the University of Redlands community gathered October 17 to hear Dr. Andrew Schroeder, a founder of WeRobotics and director of research and analysis for Direct Relief, talk about tapping the potential of spatial technology for disaster relief.

Schroeder—who has engaged in disaster relief operations in Myanmar, Haiti, Liberia, and New York City, and has contributed to global health projects in the Philippines, Ethiopia, and California—began with a summary of natural disasters over the past decade and how geographic information systems (GIS) and other technologies have begun to help vulnerable populations. 

“In the past ten weeks, we’ve had multiple unprecedented natural events,” he said. Touching upon hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, earthquakes in Mexico, and wildfires in California, Schroeder conceded: “The world is always in turmoil.”

After being hired by Direct Relief in 2008, Schroeder began investigating the ways in which maps can be used to help regions affected by natural disasters. By mapping a country’s health infrastructure, such as clinic and hospital locations, he learned that aid resources could be mobilized more efficiently in times of crisis. After the earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal, drones and medical personnel were able to deliver supplies to heavily damaged areas because the country’s health centers and densely populated areas had been previously mapped.  

After discovering the importance of drones and mapping in humanitarian relief, Schroeder founded WeRobotics and began working to build a global network of innovation labs that allow local communities to use robotics for social good. Currently, WeRobotics is concentrating efforts in Peru, Tanzania, and Nepal. 

“In the Peruvian Amazon, clinics frequently run out of antivenom, which is an injection that can save snake bite victims from sudden death,” said Schroeder. “WeRobotics found that delivering antivenom to clinics in that region takes six hours by boat but only 35 minutes by drone.” 

By partnering with local educational institutions and hosting drone and GIS trainings in underdeveloped regions, WeRobotics is working toward democratizing advanced technologies. “When it comes to crises, we have to ask: Where are the supplies supposed to go? Where do we start rebuilding?” said Schroeder. “Maps are beginning to answer those questions. All crises are connected.”

The recent talk was part of the Center for Business GIS and Spatial Analysis (GISAB) Speaker Series. Next up in the series is “Space Time Pattern Mining: A New Frontier in Spatial Analysis” by Esri’s  Spatial Analysis Product Engineer Lauren Bennett on Tuesday, November 14, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. (dinner at 5:30 p.m.; lecture at 6 p.m.), at the University of Redlands main campus, University Club. Please R.S.V.P. to Christine Mee at