IBM is giving away free DJI drones to coders

Initiative builds on competition that supports developers working on novel natural disaster solutions.

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In 2018, self-taught developer Pedro Cruz entered Call for Code, IBM's worldwide developer competition that seeks technology solutions for natural disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. A resident of Puerto Rico, which had recently been devastated by Hurricane Maria, the challenge felt particularly important to him.

Cruz decided to create a natural disaster preparedness drone solution inspired by his grandmother. During the hurricane, Pedro was unable to reach his grandmother. 

"Right after the hurricane," says DroneAid creator Pedro Cruz, "I was worried for my parents, my family and my grandma. We had no communications whatsoever. I saw all the destruction and I got worried. Thankfully, I had my drone."

IBM: You Could Win $200K by Joining the Call for Code 2019 Challenge (Canada)

He eventually found her, and after confirming she was safe, he had the idea to use his drone to scout for other people who needed help. From the air, he noticed hundreds of messages scrawled on the ground by those desperate for aid. 

Cruz's project, called DroneAID, incorporated a visual vocabulary that could be displayed by disaster victims and read by drones using visual recognition technology. Reading the symbols, the drones would then relay vital information back to relief workers, potentially shortening the response time from days to hours and helping responders get vital resources where they're most needed. For his project, Cruz won the Call for Code hackathon in Puerto Rico.

"IBM believes developers can create amazing solutions when they have the right tools," a spokesperson told me. "Through IBM's Code and Response initiative, along with non-profits, aid agencies, and local governments, IBM is putting open source technologies developed as part of coding challenges such as Call for Code in the communities where they are needed most." 

In that spirit, IBM has launched what it's calling the IBM Developer Drone Giveaway to empower more developers to leverage drone-related code patterns, to get up-and-running on IBM Cloud, and to inspire more entries to the Call for Code competition, which is open to submissions until the end of July. This is the second year of the giveaway and IBM expects to distribute 1,500 DJI Tello drones to eager developers.

The drone giveaway is designed to promote the powerful intersection of drone technology and IBM Watson Visual Recognition. For example, developers have used the system to survey wildfire-damaged neighborhoods to identify burned homes and intact homes, as illustrated in this developer tutorial. Similarly, developers have figured out how to survey flooded neighborhoods to identify survivors on rooftops and detect rescue boats. Both are crucial tools for first-responders.

If you're a developer keen in participating in the context and you'd like a drone, visit the contest page and and sign up for your free IBM Cloud to be in the running (the competition is open to residents of the US, Canada, the UK, and Spain). On Tuesdays between now and June 16, 2019, watch the IBM Developer Twitch channel and check your email. Each week, IBM will randomly select a group of winners to receive a DJI Tello drone and full access to code patterns for drone programming.

Winners then compete in a series of challenges using tools like Node-RED and IBM Watson Visual Recognition, Watson IoT, IBM Cloud, and IBM Data and Analytics to create novel drone applications.

Entry in the broader Call for Code competition is open until July 29. Winning coders who develop open-source applications for natural disaster relief are eligible for a $200k grand prize.