Drone potential for search and rescue

The drone used for these trials was a fixed-wing version that can be launched using portable equipment The drone used for these trials was a fixed-wing version that can be launched using portable equipment

Trials have been carried out to assess the potential for using drones to assist with search and rescue operations around the UK coastline reports Dag Pike.

The trials were carried out by QinetiQ in cooperation with the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to investigate how drone technology can strengthen search and rescue missions.

The MCA oversees search and rescue operations in the UK and their volunteer Coastguard Rescue Teams respond to time-critical emergency calls. Funded by QinetiQ’s Internal Research and Development, their search and rescue development programme is exploring how small unmanned air systems using drones, with enhanced information sharing capability can help these rescue teams be more effective and save more lives.

During recent demonstrations, QinetiQ’s Manned-Unmanned Teaming solution allowed MCA control room staff in the National Maritime Operations Centre at Fareham, to safely and securely control the sensors of an unmanned system in flight at Llanbedr Airfield in North West Wales which is over 200 miles away. The live situational awareness feed, which included marked up imagery, search status and reference points, was simultaneously distributed to multiple teams at the search site in Llanbedr, and to remote sites in Fareham, London and Southampton.

Search teams on the ground were equipped with rugged tablets with moving maps, sensor feeds from the air systems, and search progress information; all enabled by a network that shared voice and data amongst all participants. The lessons learned from this activity have generated insight into how to effectively deploy drones in future search and rescue missions.

The drone used for these trials was a fixed-wing version that can be launched using portable equipment. This type of drone has a longer range that the ‘multicopter’ type drones so it can stay over the casualty area for longer periods. Coordination and control of the drone is important when helicopter operations might be used on the rescue operation.

The Irish Coast Guard is using rotary-wing drones for their SAR operations and in the Mediterranean drones are being used to detect the boats of illegal immigrants. This trial by QinetiQ is thought to be the first time that fixed-wing drones have been used for this task.

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