Experts Convene at swissnex Boston to Address Drone Regulation in Relief Work

Humanitarian and Tech Experts Convene in Cambridge to Address Drone Regulation in Relief Work

On May 15, swissnex Boston gathered leaders from companies like WeRobotics, American Red Cross, MIT, and Harvard to address the future of drones in the humanitarian sector.

As part of its AERIAL FUTURES: THE DRONE FRONTIER series, swissnex Boston hosted a day-long gathering of drone technology and humanitarian experts to move towards consensus on standards and best practices for drone use in humanitarian efforts.

The hybrid private/public event began with a closed-door discussion amongst an international selection of expert representatives from companies including WeRobotics, American Red Cross, Harvard, MIT, and more.

Part one of the discussion focused on the “UAV Code of Conduct”. The development of protocols and guidelines to inform the safe, responsible and effective use of drones in disaster zones, started in earnest in 2014 through the work of the Humanitarian UAV Network. swissnex Boston, WeRobotics, and MIT Solve curated a conversation yesterday on the latest developments around the Code of Conduct and specific guidelines, particularly those on conflict sensitivity and the draft guidelines around the use of humanitarian cargo drones.

Part two focused in on Aerial Artificial Intelligence in order to take stock of the very latest developments, opportunities and challenges in the application of AI, machine learning and computer vision to automatically analyze aerial imagery with respect to features of direct interest to the international aid and development community.



On the evening of May 15th, swissnex Boston opened its doors for a sold out public event titled “Humanitarian Drones- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. Opening with a keynote, Dr. Patrick Meier (WeRobotics) provided the crowd with a frank, first-hand overview of the humanitarian drone space since Typhoon Haiyan — a Category 5 Cyclone that devastated the Philippines in 2013. His talk focused on the most pressing current and future challenges vis-a-vis the responsible, coordinated and effective use of drones in humanitarian action. These include regulations, codes of conduct, complex emergencies, localization, turf wars, artificial intelligence and more. Patrick spoke directly from his first-hand operational experience in coordinating drone teams after major disasters and from the first-hand experience of WeRobotics and their global network Flying Labs.

Following Patrick’s keynote, he was joined for a panel discussion with researcher Faine Greenwood (Harvard Humanitarian Initiative) and Jake Porway (founder of DataKind), moderated by Lily Bui, a PhD student in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

“We, as experts from various backgrounds and organizations, really need to use today as a springboard for developing guidelines for the use of drones, AI, and aerial technology in humanitarian work,” said Patrick Meier, founder of WeRobotics.

Jonas Brunschwig, swissnex Boston’s Project Leader for Academic Relations, was a key organizer of the event. “Today’s event really embodies what we’re trying to do with the Aerial Futures series- creating a space for meaningful exchanges to advance the drone frontier. In this case, our guests were a mix of experts who are truly at the forefront of their fields, from humanitarian tech, policy, and research, to AI, machine learning and big data experts- representing a mix of non-profits and local organizations as well as major international organizations and academia. It was a privilege to be able to convene these leaders and facilitate a discussion that not only brings humanitarian values into the drone conversation, but also produces actionable outcomes in terms of both the code of conduct for humanitarian drones and the application of advanced technologies like AI and big data to expand humanity’s ability to help people in need.”

AERIAL FUTURES: Humanitarian Drones- The Good, the bad, and the Ugly is organized by swissnex Boston, WeRobotics, and MIT Solve.
Special thanks also to the following organizations for their expert input: U.S. Naval War College, Amazon, Boston University, Global Support and Development, Village Reach, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, DroneDeploy, American Red Cross, ICRC Collaborative Platform, The City of Cambridge, The Rockefeller Foundation, Autodesk Foundation, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, World Food Programme, Airbus, Simon Fraser University, Quatar Computing Research Institute, DataKind, and MetaOptima.


Photos from the event are available here.



Press Contact:
Jake Link, Senior Communications Manager
swissnex Boston
jake at swissnexBoston dot org
617-876-3076 x125

For partnership information, contact Jonas at swissnexBoston dot org