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In contemporary times, rapid growth of the worldwide population constitutes one major problem that world society is going to deal with the next decades. This phenomenon is conjunction with the inability of these people to find an affordable place to live in comprises the decisive factor that leads to the increase of informal settlements. Recent researches provided an estimation that more than 25% of the world’s urban population live in slums. Whilst the effort by urban developers to improve the living conditions there, the lack of sufficient spatial information describing the baseline situation and alterations generate several difficulties. Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, seem to fulfil the requirements for detailed and up-to-date spatial information for these areas in an economic viable way. Drones missions could facilitate the mapping attempt in informal settlements by recording good-quality images and videos which after essential modification process are converted to detailed elevation models and orthoimagery. The collected information will simplify the identification of the buildings and indicate the population, the access routes and the free spaces of the area.
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UAVs’ technology emerged as a combination of technologies provided by different scientific fields such as aerodynamics, manufacturing materials, circuit boards, cameras, or chipset and software. Control operator though is the person that interacts with the “brain” of the system designating its moves and is responsible for the mission. These systems could be modified according to the kind of the mission their investors are willing to implement by changing electronic or mechanical parts that for instance increase endurance, autonomy, imagery quality or even data storage using big data. The role of control operator though is unchangeable as he will define the parameters through which a UAV will succeed in its mission. UAVs are a concept that has always been and continues to be inextricably linked to technological advances and their production is expected to quadruple the next few decades.
The lack of alternative systems in mapping processes rendered UAVs very useful for urban planners. So far, only satellites can generate maps of the informal settlements and define their major characteristics. Internet sources, with prime example Google Earth (GE), were the main tools used to interpret the visual image of slums. However, the data were not sufficient as the spatial resolution was poor and as a result the buildings, routes and infrastructures in these areas could not be determined. Hence, the technical capability of UAVs to carry aerial cameras could help urban planners elaborate further the settlement’s area assuring cost-efficiency and quality of data.
UAVs are gaining continuous popularity for many civil applications, from amateur users and hobbyists to facilitating governmental researches or companies’ projects. Data collected in Rwanda, Tanzania, Uruguay and Albania aligned to settlements’ mapping proved the significant role of UAVs in extracting information. However, ricing concerns regarding ethical implications and misuse of data might postpone the development of these systems. Due to the great promise of the potential deployment of UAVs for informal settlements’ mapping, there are different institutions that have been investing resources in this technology. As the main goal of the utilization of drones is to provide solutions to people there can be found many collaborations in this field. Governmental organisations in countries (e. g. Rwanda, Uruguay et. al) that face intensively the informal settlements’ phenomenon are taking the initiative to ask the assistance of urban developers in order to determine possible ways to lessen the problem, avoid expropriation issues and protect people from natural disasters. From their side, urban planners need all the available tools to provide high-quality information and be capable to analyze them, avoiding misinterpretations or discrepancies among the data. Several times they collaborate with local universities or other institutions that have conducted relevant researches in order to obtain a better theoretical background regarding the area. Universities and these institutions intend from their side to deepen their knowledge from this kind of projects and pay more attention to the analysis procedures. The essential information however could not be reachable unless the necessary tools are provided. Hence, the role of manufacture companies is of paramount importance. Leading UAV corporations such as DJI, Boeing and Lockheed Martin actively make investments and foster the use of drones in informal settlement mapping guaranteeing the quality of the extracted data. Once this technology spreads, many more stakeholders will be affected. For instance, as the UAV system comprises many sub-systems, suppliers that will deploy specific parts will be increased. Furthermore, as the applications of drones are increased above informal settlements’ residencies, insurance companies will become part of the stakeholders’ map intending to insure the quality of the system and assure manufacturers and inhabitants. UAV missions will mostly affect the citizens of informal settlements, who are mostly interested in maintaining their privacy as they may feel that UAVs invade their life and have fears regarding the utilization of the data obtained. Hence, medias and journals have the substantial role to inform citizens for the purposes of the research. Moreover, several NGOs investigate the potential effects and repercussions of UAVs’ usage and either propose alternative applications or pressure for a regulation framework that will assure inhabitants’ rights. Because of the necessity for a defined regulation framework, legislators are embedded to the stakeholders’ map. Their aim is to propose amendments and laws that will define the frontiers of UAVs’ applications regarding privacy intervention, data usage transparency, flight envelope, system requirements and certifications. The core value of the UAVs’ technology used for informal settlements’ mapping is the facilitation of collecting detailed geospatial information without invading citizens’ privacy process. Information and data obtained will provide to the urban planners all the essential knowledge to manage the situation and propose feasible and sustainable solutions to upgrade these areas without expropriating inhabitants’ properties and protect them for potential natural disasters. The governmental agencies and urban developers that intend to use UAVs for mapping, share common values as they are both searching for the best system to upgrade informal settlements’ areas in an effective and cost-effective way.
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On the other hand, universities aim to gain access to specific sources of information, expand their knowledge in the field and create their own records. UAV as well with sub-systems’ manufacturers intend to profit from the revenues, whereas insurance companies to assure the quality of the devices and specify the terms enforced in case of an accident. Citizens of the settlements want to be secure, maintain their privacy and be aware of the usages of the data exported. Hence, medias and local journals that provide information regarding the purpose of the flights will orientate the perceptions of the local population reassure them. Hence governments and medias in collaboration share the shame value of informing inhabitants of the slums for the flights’ purpose. Regulatory agencies warry about manufacturing practices that comply with the safety and quality standards as well as privacy rights advocacy and flight envelope determination. To incorporate the values of all stakeholders into the technology design, developers must try to reconcile conflicting interests such as the parties that intend to profit from the technology and the inhabitants who want to have a secure life. Manufacturers could firstly pixilate the faces of individuals, which means that images can be blurred and thus images of people will not be identifiable. Furthermore, operators should have recording limitations which means that the device will having an on/off button. This way operators who need to record continuously are obliged to be justified and applications will be implemented only when it is necessary. In addition, manufacturers should introduce encrypted transmission systems which are substantial to deter offenders from intercepting data. The next step for protection from these systems is also the development of geo-fencing. This means that homeowners will be able to register the sky above their own property as a no-fly zone preventing drones from flying above them.
Another significant measure is the identification of the UAVs. This can be implemented with the existence of unique serial numbers for each drone which will make recognizable the original owner and broadcast an electronic identification so that whoever searched for that will obtain the desirable information. There must be constructed national or cross-national databases listing the serial numbers of drones, their missions and buyers and/or operators. These databases could provide individuals with the fundamental mission details for the UAV that may fly above their head. Additionally, regulators should specify the flight envelope of UAVs. It is essential to specify the areas which every type of UAV will be able to fly in alliance with national and global aviation systems. What could be also proved substantial to help UAV systems to be assimilated in a responsible for the society way, are the information brochures and leaflets that should be scattered with the do’s and don’ts fostering buyers respect privacy and other human rights and inform residents for their missions.
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