Demining drones and 3D prosthetic projects win $2.3 million humanitarian prize

Demining drones and 3D prosthetic projects win $2.3 million humanitarian prize

The European Union Horizon Prize 2020 has honored Humanity & Inclusion (the new name of handicap international) with two awards for its Odyssey2025 project on the use of drones in mine clearance operations, and its Tele Rehabilitation For All project.

At a ceremony in Brussels on September 24, Humanity & Inclusion received two of the five prizes of the inaugural European Union Horizon Prize for Affordable High-Tech for Humanitarian Aid. Humanity & Inclusion is the only organization to receive two awards. Its use of drones in demining operations won the "Other humanitarian assistance” category, while its pilot telerehabilitation project won the "Health and medical care” category. Each category carries a prize of one million euros.

Founded almost four decades ago, Humanity & Inclusion has been at the forefront of many of the innovations and initiatives that have revolutionized humanitarian assistance, from telerehabilitation to the 3D-printing of prostheses, and the use of drones to locate anti-personnel mines. The organization explores innovative solutions adapted to humanitarian needs and believes innovation should be as widely accessible and beneficial as possible.

The prize money allows Humanity & Inclusion to establish a new fund to help fuel future advances. “A humanitarian fund for innovation helps us continue a path we began laying in 1982, in the Thai refugee camps for Cambodians,” explains Humanity & Inclusion’s Global Managing Director, Manuel Patrouillard. “Without suitable workshops, we had to innovate to orthopedically fit 6,000 amputees—many of them landmine victims—with bamboo prostheses. 

"The Tele Rehabilitation For All project and the use of 3D technology reflects something that’s in Humanity & Inclusion's DNA: a desire to improve the quality and impact of our response using accessible technologies. Innovation is not just for specialists. It should be widely accessible. We are committed to that goal.” 

Indeed, by producing bamboo, and leather, wood and tire prostheses, and wooden wheelchairs, Humanity & Inclusion was the first humanitarian organization to develop simple and cost-effective orthopedic devices adapted to the local context. Forty years on, Humanity & Inclusion is the first organization in the world to combine telerehabilitation and the production of 3D prostheses. Humanity & Inclusion provides physical therapy sessions by video link and produces prostheses remotely for amputees by scanning stumps and then 3D-printing prostheses.

“A person with a disability who needs a prosthesis has to travel to a rehabilitation center for treatment by professionals at each stage of care,” explains Isabelle Urseau, Technical Director of the Rehabilitation Unit. “There are few or no centers in many parts of the world. Armed conflicts can also restrict travel. Since 2016, we have developed our telerehabilitation activities to provide rehabilitation care to people who are isolated or unable to access services. By using digital technology combined with 3D printing, we can now produce and supply high-quality prostheses and orthoses for less money, and provide rehabilitation care to people we were unable to access previously.”

Humanity & Inclusion’s humanitarian demining programs launched in 1992, in Cambodia, a country heavily contaminated by anti-personnel mines. The humanitarian demining space has come a long way since, and at the end of 2019, reached a new milestone when Humanity & Inclusion achieved a demining world-first when it successfully located mines buried in the desert using drones equipped with infrared cameras. “We can also map vast areas of contaminated land in record time,” explains Emmanuel Sauvage, Armed violence reduction Director for Humanity & Inclusion. “Using conventional methods, it used to take weeks to investigate a suspected hazardous area. These new methods will accelerate clearance and land release for local populations."

The demining project was in large part successful thanks to a strong partnership with Mobility Robotics, led by John Fardoulis, who pushes drone tech to its limits to keep civilians safe below.

Humanity & Inclusion is committed to developing solutions based on the latest discoveries and newest uses of technology. Staff work to apply practical innovations immediately, in a way that is simple and easy to adopt for local actors. Innovation has an ethical imperative to provide real and effective aid to vulnerable people, including children, single women, and older people, and to help them live in dignity.