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Using Drones to Make Peace, Not War

Aid groups are trying out drones for search-and-rescue operations
Rigi’s drone that drops life preservers to drowning people
Rigi’s drone that drops life preservers to drowning peopleCourtesy RTS

Amin Rigi says drones should be used to save lives, not spy or kill. The Iranian, who has a bachelor’s degree in robotics engineering, is launching RTS London to manufacture flying robots that drop life preservers to drowning people. His selling point is speed: A video shot on the Caspian Sea shows his prototype reaching a swimmer in 22 seconds, four times faster than a lifeguard.

Preorders have poured in from 25 countries since Rigi, 27, posted the one-minute demonstration video on YouTube. He aims to ship his drones, which could cost up to $10,000 each, by mid-2015. Rigi, who will soon relocate to London to take part in an accelerator program for tech startups, predicts his business, which is developing an array of rescue robots, “will lead a revolution,” unleashing the power of drones to do good.
He may be on to something. Doctors Without Borders, the International Organization for Migration, Unicef, the World Health Organization, and the World Wildlife Fund have experimented with using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to prevent poaching, find survivors in disaster zones, and carry out other humanitarian tasks. “Time is everything in disasters,” says Patrick Meier, founder of the Humanitarian UAV Network, which together with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is organizing a meeting in New York in November to explore uses for drones in crises. The technology is “already making a huge impact,” Meier says, in places such as the Philippines, where millions were displaced by Typhoon Haiyan last year, and in the Balkans, where this spring’s record flooding exposed land mines from Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.