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WeRobotics launches global drone data challenge

WeRobotics has launched a massive global challenge in a bid to solve social issues using drone data.

Known as Unusual Solvers Competition, it's open to anyone and everyone around the world interested in robotics solutions in a range of capacities. Submissions are being accepted until August 31, 2019. Those encouraged to sign up includes students, scholars, nonprofits, for-profit companies and innovators.

The winner will receive $235,000 for using drones and data in unique ways to address local challenges and big topics such as humanitarian aid, land rights, conservation, agriculture, resilient urban planning, and more.

As part of the competition, nine finalists will receive $15,000 each and support from mentors to turn their ideas into concepts pitched to an expert jury in early 2020. The grand prize winner will receive $100,000 to finance their solution.

According to WeRobotics, drones are an underutilised technology, and even though they are more accessible than ever, not much is being done to translate drone data into effective solutions that genuinely have an impact. With the competition, the company hopes to see original, scalable solutions to address these issues.

There are various roadblocks that can be identified, according to WeRobotics. This includes the fact that data analysis can be time consuming, costly and complex. In addition, it often doesn’t account for local and cultural specificities.

Furthermore, the amount of drones has led to a number of ethical challenges with privacy and data protection arising, and this has hindered the potential for drones to improve lives.

This competition encourages solutions from areas that typically receive lower investment and have higher barriers to entry, such as Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

Applicants do not need to be technical drone experts nor own a drone, but they must understand the challenge they want to tackle and have insights into the communities of focus, WeRobotics states.

WeRobotics cofounder Sonja Betschart says, “One of the greatest challenges we face in the 'drones for good' movement is creating an enabling environment in local communities, powering the critical behind-the-scenes work that goes far beyond the exciting photos we often see of drones in flight. We know firsthand that it is the data analysis and community and stakeholder engagement - not the drones themselves - that lead to real solutions.”

“This competition will contribute much needed funding toward an enabling environment that is adapted to the needs of the Global South. And help build a stronger foundation for local innovators to improve their work for and with local communities,” she says.

The competition is supported by Omidyar Network, the philanthropic investment firm started by Pam and Pierre Omidyar.

Omidyar Network venture partner Peter Rabley says, "We have only scratched the surface of what geospatial data and analysis can do for local communities. However, for drone technology to reach its full potential, we must build more local capacity, enabling more people to effectively and ethically harness the vast troves of data that these tools can produce.”

“We look forward to the inspiring ideas that the Unusual Solvers Competition will unearth, helping create a sustainable and economically viable drone and data sector in emerging economies,” he says.

WeRobotics and its Flying Labs Network have worked with NGOs, government agencies, universities, and other institutions in more than 20 countries since 2016, providing on-site training, online courses, and collaborating on projects to integrate the use of drones in disaster response and risk management, public health services, environmental efforts, and more. The organisation also conducts research and organises conferences and similar events.