Few nations have experienced as intense, widespread suffering in their entire histories as Puerto Ricans have in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Devastation that has been described as ‘apocalyptic’ has tested millions of the nation’s residents in ways that they never imagined, leading to a mass exodus and far greater consequences as a result. Life without power, running water, or shelter is the epitome of misery, and Puerto Ricans can use all the help available to return to some semblance of normalcy.
At first, drones helped outsiders understand and assess just how immense the devastation on the island was:
Now, similar drones have gone from assessment tools to essential facilitators of recovery.
And, an important reality has come into focus as the result of relief efforts on the island: technology is often capable of carrying out critical tasks when man is unable. Despite the creature comfort role which technology often fills, those at the cutting edge of the tech industry know that far greater purposes can be fulfilled by the most cutting-edge forms of technology. In the case of Puerto Rico, drones have proven an invaluable resource in restoring power to millions of homes.
These drones have proven especially valuable in the more mountainous regions of Puerto Rico. Regions such as Ponce have witnessed crews of men struggle with installing power lines over thousand-foot-deep gorges. Where man’s limitations prevent them from acting quickly or safely, drones have proven that they can fill the void.
Duke Energy has been the company at the forefront of the project, restoring lines that were wiped out by hurricane winds which caused fallen trees and decimated power-related infrastructure. Duke ceased using helicopters to conduct restoration projects after a pilot died in 2017, and drones became their new, low-risk tool to fill the role formerly occupied by helicopters.
Residents in many regions of Puerto Rico have been without power for 4-6 months or more, and the innovative approach to getting the lights turned back on is a more than welcome sight.
The drones first carry a relatively lightweight nylon cord, which attaches to a precise spot on a pole using a 3D-printed electromagnet. A stronger conductor wire is then put into place, and workers are then able to pull the conductor wire into the proper position. These processes make it possible to restore power without risking lives or spending countless hours reaching wires that are positioned at great heights.
The use of drones in Puerto Rico reminds us once again how valuable technology, and drones specifically, can be in the wake of disaster. And, it should serve as continued motivation for those who are seeking the next great piece of tech aimed at serving purposes such as search and rescue and disaster relief.