By Shakia Stewart, Digital Content Manager

26 November 2016 - 00:06

Raja (right) holding one of his fixed wing plane drones made using polystyrene.
Raja (right) holding one of his fixed wing plane drones made using polystyrene. 

In Indonesia 140 hectares (or 140 football fields) disappear every minute, largely due to palm oil plantations and mining. This rate of deforestation is the highest in the world according to research by political ecologist Raja.

At the Digital Design Weekend in Jakarta, Raja demonstrated and talked about his drones to a group of young teenagers. He says he’s not into the blaming game. “I’m trying to understand this environmental change, what’s driving it. And as you can imagine, the ones who are very vulnerable are the indigenous people, the local people – our friends there.”

Raja’s research is based on the rivers of West Kalimantan in Borneo where there is an absence of maps.

“For so long official maps are made either by the government or private companies, so development in Indonesia is driven by a top down approach.” There are a lot of conflicts and many lives are lost over land ownership in Indonesia. 

Raja’s drone idea is very simple - if he can empower people with knowledge and good data about the land around them, he believes we can go further towards better development. Not only in Indonesia but all over the world. So, maps – that’s the key.

Making maps with drones

There are a lot of outdated satellite images where you can’t really see much detail other than rivers. The land boundaries of indigenous people are not necessarily based on the rivers and are plotted by trees and other features not easily seen without the ability to zoom in.

Raja first heard about drones being used by armies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  

“I thought, if other people can make something fly - Why can’t I? So I decided to study again in the best school of the world, which is YouTube! For days I researched on YouTube before I made my first drone. 

Then I bought a point and shoot camera and hacked it a bit so that it could take pictures at continuous intervals.” 

Raja has developed both a helicopter and fixed wing plane drone. They fly along a path set up on open source software connected to either laptop or tablet. Within 15 minutes you have images from the drone which give super high precision maps. One flight can capture images for around 50-100 hectares. That’s 100 football fields in one flight! If he can fly the fixed wing plane drone for 2-3 hours he can get enough data for 3000 hectares.  

Raja shows the young teenagers a video of the drones being used in Borneo.
Raja shows the young teenagers a video of the drones being used in Borneo. 
The kids taking a closer look at the mechanics of the helicopter drone.
Taking a closer look at the mechanics of the helicopter drone. 

Technology as a facilitator for social change

"Imagine, if this is operated collectively by the community, anywhere…it gives them the power to refute, in a good way, with good data – with data that’s better than what the government has!

The technology and drones are just the tools for Raja. More important to him is the social side - “The drones are subordinate to humanity. The decisions on where and when these drones fly is not a single person decision, it’s a collective decision. You have to agree on which area to map. The technology is a facilitator.”

Giving kids the tools to take power into their own hands

“I like provoking young brains. At the Digital Design Weekend in Jakarta, I’ve told them how we use these drones, how to make them and what for. Making these is easy enough, simple enough, but I’ve asked them to open their world, and see what they need for their city, for their town, to take power into their own hands. That’s why they are so interested. They’ve all signed up for my drone academy, they are excited about what they have learnt today.”

Other stories from the Digital Design Weekend