The word ‘drone’ has become a loaded term for many, and it is through the hashtag ‘#DronesForGood’ that UAV Scientists and professionals are fighting to reclaim the word. In the first of this series of blog posts, I will explore the use of drones by Search and Rescue teams.
Search & Rescue
Drones provide numerous advantages to search and rescue teams, enabling them to cover large areas of ground much more quickly than they could on foot. They are also able to access dangerous areas, such as inside collapsed buildings, without placing personnel at risk. They aren’t infallible of course, and people can be missed, such as by human error or a poor quality sensor. Thermal imaging would obviously be ideal for this application, but sensor miniaturisation hasn’t quite reached where I would like in the thermal world just yet. There are a few lightweight, portable options, such as the FLIR VUE, but the very best thermal version is still restricted to military applications.
Nonetheless, drones have seen increasing success as SAR tools across the world, and will inevitably become more popular as the platform matures. Close to home, Cornwall Search and Rescue has access to a drone on some searches, something reflected by other SAR teams up and down the country. The Italian Red Cross has been quite forward in trialling the technology, whilst organisations across the world have adopted drones in one form or another. Notably, a drone was used in the past month at the scene of a major warehouse collapse, helping to locate an unscathed casualty amid the carnage, which underlines their value as a tool both indoors and outdoors. Interestingly, a network even exists that offers volunteers with drones to organisations in an emergency situation, something that is a great way of utilizing existing skillsets for limited cost, provided the operators are capable. The UAV Challenge, started long ago in 2007, used to task students and innovators to build a drone capable of finding a casualty in a short period of time, underlining how some had the foresight to see drones as a great rescue tool long before they became popular.
There are limitations of course- you can’t fly a drone in a hurricane, and they generally have quite short flight times; but the potential is surely there. Devon and Cornwall Police even have their own drone for search operations, and they can be invaluable in searching challenging terrain, with them seeing recent use on Dartmoor, for example. Personally, I believe that the drone, in one form or another, will become a standard part of the SAR team toolkit. The commercial race to offer leading SAR Drones has already begun, with companies such as Microdrones starting to offer solutions, whilst DJI has been busy donating platforms to various trial units across Europe, as part of a EENA strategy. It offers some ideal advantages which will surely increase the success rate of search operations- and that is, ultimately, the name of the game.