Top 10 disaster relief and detection technologies

Disaster relief
NASA, Meta, Starlink, Apopo, Solight Design, Pano AI, UAV Navigation, Apple, JAXA & more have created technology essential for disaster relief & detection

10. Apple's 'Emergency SOS'​​​​​​​

Cupertino, California, USA

10,000 employees

CEO: Tim Cook

Disaster relief

Apple’s Advanced Manufacturing Fund has invested US$450m into infrastructure which supports Emergency SOS via satellite, for iPhone 14 models. The service will let these models connect directly to a satellite and allow them to contact emergency services when outside of cellular and Wi-Fi coverage.

The state of California faces a number of natural disasters, from earthquakes to wildfires and the ever present threat of a tsunami.

“Providing Emergency SOS via satellite is an important breakthrough that will save lives,” said Mark Ghilarducci, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services’ Director. “The critical work being done by Apple to create innovative new solutions to support 911 providers and first responders is a huge step forward in protecting Californians and the broader public during an emergency situation.”

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Twitter: @Apple

LinkedIn: Apple

9. JAXA Japan

Tsukuba, Japan

200 employees

Co-founder Yosuke Kaneko

Disaster relief

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is made up of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), the National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan (NAL) and the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) and aims to keep Japan safe from natural disasters. Its corporate slogan ‘Explore to Realise’​ refers to the management philosophy of using space and the sky to accomplish this.

JAXA uses satellites to collect data and share it across the Asia-Pacific region, playing a large role in disaster recovery, in creating maps of damaged areas.

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Twitter: @JAXA

LinkedIn: JAXA

8. CENTAURO

The University of Bonn

Bonn, Germany

Led by Professor Sven Behnke


Disaster relief

From the BeachBot litter picking at the seaside, to the Mars Rovers traversing the Red Planet, robots have become a part of everyday life for humans. 

But one thing humanity can certainly do without, is another nuclear accident - but in such a case, this is where robots come in. 

The CENTAURO project, led by Professor Sven Behnke at The University of Bonn, Germany, aims to develop a human-robot symbiotic system with a human operator, capable of ‘robust locomotion and dexterous manipulation’ for conditions seen in a natural disaster or nuclear catastrophe. The aim is that the CENTAURO robots will be able to enter the site of such a nuclear accident, which would be deeply dangerous for humans, and repair damage, collect data and even rescue trapped humans - or other robots.

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Twitter: @UniBonn

LinkedIn: The University of Bonn

7. Pano AI

San Francisco, USA

50 employees

CEO: Sonia Kastner

Disaster relief

Pano AI is on a mission to provide firefighters with the technology they need to save lives and protect their environment. The company uses AI, satellite feeds and 360-degree cameras stationed on vantage points to offer immediate intelligence for firefighters to use when called to action. Its early wildfire detection is available for governments, utilities, insurers and private landowners.

“It’s the most advanced product in the marketplace,” said Andrew Prolov, Pano’s Head of Australia. “Our network of cameras constantly survey the landscape, we combine that imagery with satellite and other data feeds, which is all analysed by our AI algorithms. When Pano detects a fire threat, our 24/7 intelligence centre confirms the fire and alerts our customers within minutes. Pano helps authorities quickly share real-time intelligence to their extended and remote team, enabling a fast and coordinated response.”

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Twitter: @Pano_AI

LinkedIn: PanoAI

6. UAV Navigation

Madrid, Spain

32 employees

CEO: Guillermo Parodi

Disaster relief

Drones are awesome - they may cause wedding photographers to get a bit more creative and raise an uneasy feeling of living in a futuristic dystopian novel, but they offer views of the planet we otherwise would not have easy access to, without a satellite. 

Since 2004, UAV Navigation’s unmanned vehicles have been taking flight, facing unpredictable conditions on land and at sea to get to their destination. 

UAV Navigation has teamed up with the New Zealand based Martin Aircraft Company (MACL) in developing flight control avionics for the world’s first practical jetpack to be used by first responders in natural disaster recovery.

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Twitter: @UAV Navigation

LinkedIn: UAV Navigation

5. Solight Design

New York, USA

10 employees

CEO: Alice Min Soo Chun

Alice Min-Soo Chun, Professor of Design and Material Culture at Parsons the New School for Design, was deeply impacted when she saw the news of the Haiti earthquake in 2010. Over the past year, she had been working on integrating solar circuit panels with thin film substrates, as the first prototype for a solar inflatable light. Following the news of the earthquake, she knew one thing the Haitians would need in their recovery was access to light. But the popular kerosene lamps could cause more damage to the health of the earthquake survivors. 

“It’s a fossil fuel, it is toxic, over a million children die each year from poor air quality," explains Chun. "Imagine if those people could use a solar lantern. Light would be free as well as healthy!”

Now, Solight Design sells and distributes its solar-powered products, which are lightweight, compact, self-inflating and sustainable. They are for everyday use, as well as for those recovering from a disaster. 

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Twitter: @Solight

LinkedIn: Solight

4. Apopo

Morogoro, Tanzania

100 employees

CEO: Christophe Cox

Disaster relief

Many post-conflict areas are littered with landmines, causing devastation to vulnerable communities. A team of scientists in Belgium founded Apopo to build a simple and cost-efficient mine clearance technology specifically for use in low-income countries. The star of the show… rats. Perhaps one of the most reviled animals on earth, these lightweight and sharp-eyed creatures have outstanding scent detection. They are fitted with a high-tech backpack, fitted with a location-device and camera to help the Apopo team find active landmines.

Apopo now has Mine Action operations in Cambodia, Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique. The graduate rats of Apopo are also being trained for use in places of natural disaster, where they can slip easily through rubble to find survivors. In such cases, the rats are also fitted with a two way radio, allowing survivors to communicate with the rescue team.

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Twitter: @apopo

LinkedIn: Apopo

3. Starlink (a division within SpaceX)

Hawthorne, California, USA

10,000 employees

CEO: Elon Musk

Disaster relief

Starlink satellites deliver high-speed, broadband internet to places where access is unreliable, expensive or simply unavailable. Starlink can be deployed in minutes to support emergency responders in disaster scenarios around the world, as well as those living in rural communities. 

The Hoh tribe, a Native American group in western Washington state, tweeted that the Starlink network had been warmly received by local residents. “Our children can participate in remote learning, residents can access healthcare. SpaceX Starlink made it happen overnight.”

But it’s not without controversy, due to the antics of CEO Elon Musk. While Starlink has assisted Ukraine's army with broadband communications in its defence from Russia’s invasion, Musk ensured that the service could not be used to control drones as the business is not to be ‘weaponised’. 

This week, Musk said that if Starlink had approval from Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey would be welcome to use Starlink in its recovery from this week’s earthquake.

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Twitter: @SpaceX

LinkedIn: SpaceX

2. Meta

Menlo Park, USA

122,000 employees

CEO: Mark Zuckerberg

Disaster relief

Following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Facebook developed a feature for users present in a certain location to quickly and directly tell their Friends and family members that they were alive - the ‘Mark as Safe’ function. Instead of posting a status about their condition, users could just click a button. Its first use came in 2015, after the Nepal earthquake and has been used since then in various natural disasters, accidents and terrorist attacks. 

In other uses, people who have been trapped in rubble following a disaster have been able to post their location and get their Friends to send help. Community groups can quickly mobilise online and arrange support for those who find themselves without a home or who need non-emergency medical care.

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1. NASA Finder tool

Washington, USA

10,000 employees

CEO: Bill Nelson

Disaster relief

NASA’s FINDER tool (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response) can sense a heartbeat under 30ft of rubble. Its technology has been used in disasters from Mexico to Nepal, to find trapped survivors. A low-power microwave signal is sent through rubble to look for changes in the reflections of the signals which bounce back. FINDER technology can detect tiny motions using algorithms and can tell the difference between human heartbeats and those of animals.

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Twitter: @NASA

LinkedIn: NASA

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