Drones of Hope: PhD Student Aims to Revolutionize Humanitarian Relief Efforts from the Skies

By Eric Hollenbeck

Amirhossein Moadab

In a quest to bridge the gap between cutting-edge technology and humanitarian aid, a Carson College of Business PhD student is harnessing the potential of aerial drones to revolutionize disaster response and bring swift relief to victims.

Driven by a deep sense of empathy, Amirhossein Moadab, a PhD student studying operations and management science, is no stranger to the devastating impact of natural disasters. Having experienced the harrowing 2003 Bam earthquake in southeastern Iran at the tender age of eight, followed by the 2006 Borujerd earthquake in his hometown when he was just 11, he witnessed firsthand the urgent need for effective humanitarian aid.

Throughout those challenging times, Moadab couldn’t help but question the effectiveness of relief efforts, as he observed countless resources and supplies failing to reach those in dire need. The seismic landscape of Iran, marked by frequent tectonic activity, serves as a poignant backdrop to Moadab’ s journey, fueling his determination to find a solution that reaches even the most remote and inaccessible areas of terrain.

Aerial drone technology may aid first responders in multiple ways

When it comes to planning for natural disasters, there are four critical areas of focus:

  • mitigation
  • preparedness
  • response
  • recovery

Moadab is focusing on the preparedness and response phases, and technology plays a crucial role.

“The first thing that happens is disruption in the supply chain. We can perform the same types of operations as before but have to plan for how we address uncertainties,” Moadab says. “Everything changes when disaster strikes.”

For example, collapsed buildings or bridges after an earthquake may cause roadblocks or other barriers which may impede recovery efforts by boots-on-the-ground emergency responders. Moadab has been working on advanced mathematical modeling, which considers real-world scenarios, to run drone fleet simulations and test feasibility.

“You can use emerging technologies, like drones, for a variety of different tasks,” he says.

Coordinated fleets of aerial drones have the potential to aid first responders in a number of ways, such as delivering aid and supplies, identifying survivors beneath, communicating with victims that help is on the way, and many other applications.

Moadab’s current drone rescue research is built on his previous research “Drone Routing Problem Model for Last-Mile Delivery Using the Public Transportation Capacity as Moving Charging Stations,” published in Scientific Reports and “A Novel Mathematical Model for a Cloud-Based Drone Enabled Vehicle Routing Problem considering Multi-Echelon Supply Chain,” published by the Federation of Automatic Controls. Both papers, along with his current work, are based on a novel mathematical model he and his coauthor developed. His paper on drone routing and last-mile delivery earned him an invitation from the chair of the “Collaborative Routing and Planning of Aerial and Other Vehicle” session at the 2022 Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) annual meeting.

“This paper poses a novel idea of using already existing infrastructure, such as public transportation, to carry and charge drones instead of utilizing trucks,” he says.

To Moadab’s delight, the paper has already received 21 citations since its publication in mid-2022, a remarkable achievement in such a short period for a technical, non-survey paper.

WSU’s reputation and positive peer feedback stand out

Moadab earned a master’s degree in industrial engineering from Iran’s Sharif University of Technology, renowned for its excellence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. He chose to build on his industrial engineering expertise by pursuing a PhD in operations management at WSU.

“I selected WSU for two specific reasons,” Moadab says. “The strength of the research, especially that of Dr. Chuck Munson and Dr. Xinchang Wang, whose research and expertise aligned with my interests in logistics and operations, and positive feedback I heard about the college from current students and alumni of the PhD program.”

“I felt confident that this program would help me develop stronger managerial insights,” he says.

Moadab reached out though LinkedIn to Carson College doctoral students and alumni who, like him, were from Iran, to ask for their opinions on the college’s doctoral program.

“I messaged them and asked questions about WSU and the Carson College. I liked what they had to say; they vouched for the school and the program, so here I am.”

Moadab believes earning his doctorate in operations management is the “last piece in the puzzle” of how he envisions his career path and his responsibility to the world.

“Becoming a professor in my field is my goal. Part of my teaching philosophy is to not only share knowledge; I can also learn from students. That’s why I love teaching,” he says.

And just as his research focus has been shaped by experiences of his past, so has Moadab’s desire to learn, teach, and mentor others.

“In Iran, we have so many areas where children barely have blackboards to write on, let alone many other important educational resources. It’s because of where I come from, I know education, and more specifically, earning my PhD will allow me to do the work I want to in terms of social good and serving humanity.”