Disaster Relief for the Digital Age: 13 Innovative Ideas

What if an unmanned robot that looks like a distant cousin of Optimus Prime could respond to a meltdown at a nuclear plant, reducing the number of human lives lost? Imagine all-terrain emergency response vehicles that can shift from ultra-fast two-seaters to trucks full of precious supplies within minutes, and prefabricated shelters that can hook onto the outside of damaged skyscrapers with the help of a helicopter. Is this the future of disaster relief? These 13 incredibly creative concepts inspire hope for the ways in which we can deal with catastrophe as technology progresses.

Digital Origami Emergency Shelter

(images via: evolo.us)

Design firm LAVA bases this concept for a prefabricated emergency shelter on the water molecule. The modular design can either be shipped flat-pack, dropped off fully assembled by helicopter or built on-site out of local plywood. Each unit houses two adults and one child with sleeping, eating and reading space. By night, the shelter is illuminated by way of an LED light, shining as “a sign of hope.”

Fractal Prefab Eco Village

(images via: shradhabhandari.com)

Highly versatile, sustainable and self-sufficient, the fractal structure of this prefabricated emergency shelter concept by Shradha Bhandari enables it to adjust to nearly any landscape, fitting in among trees or clinging to uneven terrain. It includes openings for light and air, and its sloped rooftop panels enable both solar panel installation and collection of rainwater, which would be channeled into underground reservoirs.

Healing Bench by Adrian Candela

(images via: tuvie)

Incredibly compact, the Healing Bench converts from a backpack to an operating bench, and it even holds a blanket and medical kit so that emergency workers can carry important tools to disaster sites hands-free. It’s made with the same materials and construction as a kayak so that it’s durable and able to float.

Cardborigami Corrugated Fold-Out Shelter

(images via: envirogadget)

We don’t tend to think of cardboard as being water-resistant, flame resistant or particularly strong – so it’s not a likely candidate for disaster housing. However, designer Tine Hovsepian has figured out a way to defy these assumptions with Cardborigami, a corrugated cardboard structure that has been scored so that it can fold flat or expand into a tent-like shelter. While extremely basic, it is meant as a temporary place to sleep until better shelter conditions are available.

Self-Contained Mobile Emergency Unit

(images via: evolo.us)

One of the biggest challenges for emergency responders is a lack of water and power on-site. The EDV-01 solves that problem by collecting up to 20 liters of potable water from the air each day – enough for two adults to live on. A rooftop solar system and fuel cell generates power for the unit. Even more impressive is the fact that this stainless steel container requires no on-site construction at all; a hydraulic pump raises the walls to form a second floor with the flip of a switch. Four hydraulic feet allow it to sit on uneven terrain.

A.N.T. Disaster Response Vehicles

(images via: tuvie.com)

Inspired by an ant’s ability to carry 10-50 times its own body weight across broad distances at a fast pace, A.N.T. – Aid Necessities Transporter – could help the United Nations and other relief organizations to reach remote disaster locations. The ground clearance of the three-wheeled vehicle can be adjusted either for speed or rough terrain, and a small passenger pod lifts up to accommodate a large load of supplies.

Reaction Housing System – Rapid Response Shelter

(images via: reactionhousingsystem.com)

Made up of compact pre-fabricated individual living units for four people called Exos, the Reaction Housing System can be assembled into interconnected spaces and costs just $5,000 per unit, much less than many other similar disaster housing solutions. Four beds fold against the walls when not in use, and there are four generator-powered outlets for electronics. 20 flat-pack Exos can fit on a single 53-foot semi-truck trailer and 1,940 can be transported via one freight train to provide housing for an impressive 7,760 people.

RISE: Post-Disaster Parasitic Shelters

(images via: evolo.us)

If a natural disaster hits a highly populated urban area with very little ground space – like, for example, Sao Paulo, the most populous city in the Americas – standard emergency shelters may not be much help. This innovative design by Mike Reyes actually hooks new temporary living space onto existing high-rise structures. The units would be flown in via helicopter and, with the help of survivors inside the skyscrapers, would be hooked onto the interior lip of a window, held securely by the force it creates on the exterior walls of the building. Each unit contains 4 beds, desks, skylights, windows, a water funnel and purer and the option of solar cells. They even have outdoor patios that allow neighboring units to connect.

Portable Disaster Pod by Jonathan Ferrer

(images via: coroflot)

A protective, portable egg-shaped pod could be dropped down to disaster sites, quickly folding out into a tripod shape with a second layer of legs. An orange nylon rip-stop shield resists water and wind, enlarging the space.

Containers to Clinics: Shipping Crate Medical Complexes

(images via: inhabitat)

Already providing much-needed care in Haiti, Containers to Clinics could represent the future in economical, easy-to-deploy medical complexes that save the lives of disaster victims. Two separate shipping containers make up one full-service clinic with examination rooms and labs; the 8′ by 20′ crates are, of course, easily transported by ship.

SEED: Shipping Container Emergency Housing

(images via: cusa-dds.net)

Another concept that makes use of shipping containers – in this case, reclaiming used ones – is SEED, a project of researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina that aims to provide safe housing for disaster victims as quickly as possible. Shipping containers are naturally resistant to earthquakes and are fit as long-term housing, making them an ideal solution for seismic events in poor Caribbean nations like Haiti where survivors may not be able to afford to rebuild.

Bull Frog: Mobile Medical Supplies for Any Terrain

(images via: tuvie.com)

Not only does this seemingly simple pull-cart help doctors carry crucial medical supplies into disaster areas, even over rough terrain, but it folds out into a work station, allowing victims to take a seat on a bench while being treated. This compact clinic-to-go could make the work of emergency responders much easier and more efficient, and seems as if it would be fairly economical to produce.

GSR Disaster Relief Robot

(images via: coroflot)

Like something out of Transformers, the GSR Disaster Relief Robot is by far the most futuristic concept on this list. Designer Daniel Shankland II imagines a towering machine that can enter dangerous situations to aid disaster victims without putting disaster responders at risk. Imagine the lives that such a creation could have saved if it were deployed, for example, to the failing Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan in the wake of this year’s tsunami.


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