Editorial Feature

Search and Rescue Drones (UAV)

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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), more commonly referred to as drones, are aircrafts that are able to operate without a pilot on board. Powered by a jet or reciprocating engine, UAVs are capable of performing controlled, sustained level flight.

Typically controlled by either a pilot at a ground station or autonomously through pre-programmed flight plans, UAVs are used for a number of different reasons. Applications include search and rescue operations, military and security purposes, environmental inspections, surveillance on illegal activities, scientific research, aerial photography and video, and much more.

UAVs for Search and Rescue

For both militant and civilian purposes, the use of UAVs in search and rescue missions is on the rise. Time is a crucial factor during any type of search and rescue mission, and in order to function as efficiently as possible, it is extremely important for search and rescue workers to obtain a rapid overview of the situation, which is often only possible from the sky.

As devastating crises continue to occur around the world, the need for drones to assist search and rescue workers is becoming of imminent need. For example, the catastrophic earthquake that occurred in Haiti in 2010 involved the work of 62 teams, comprised of 1,800 people, in order to rescue 132 victims over an 11-day period.

While these efforts are incredibly commendable, disaster analysts are hoping that the future implementation of drones could create faster ways to look for survivors or victims in the event of similar disasters.  The use of drones in search and rescue missions also protects rescue workers, who often face perilous conditions while attempting to reach victims in the event of an emergency.



While drones are becoming increasingly popular gadgets available for commercial use, those needed for search and rescue missions require much more precise features than most UAVs on the market. Flyability, a Swiss flying-robotics company, has manufactured Elios, the first collision-tolerant drone of its kind.

This 15-inch sphere draws its inspiration from houseflies, which bounce off a surface and continue to fly, as it is equipped with a freely rotating carbon-fiber exoskeleton that spins on a separate axis from the drone avionics within the device. With a collision tolerance of up to 15 km/hr, the Elios is able to withstand impact, as the carbon-fiber cage continues to spin, absorbing the energy of the collision.

Following collision, the internal propellers continue to spin, while the HD camera and lighting system remain stable. Capable of navigating through extreme environments such as collapsed buildings and chemical spill sites, this drone utilizes full HD and thermal imagery recording technologies, along with powerful LEDs for navigation and inspection in dark places.


Headquartered in Schenzhen, China, DJI has been regarded as the world’s leading maker of UAVs. With a commitment to advancing first response through the use of drones and other technologies, DJI has conducted several search and rescue tests that have shown that their drones can find a person in a one-square kilometer area within 20 minutes, which is more than five times faster than traditional methods.

Working in conjunction with the European Emergency Number Association (EENA), DJI has specifically conducted research with Ireland’s Donegal Mountain Search and Rescue in order to compare the efficacy of drone technology compared to traditional rescue team strategies.

This study found that while a five-person rescue team requires an average of two hours to find a single victim in one-square kilometer, a drone can not only find that victim in 20 minutes, but can also take additional active steps in order to ensure a successful rescue is achieved.

While the full search and rescue process with drones is extensive, requiring the drone to transmit images and GPS coordinates to other searchers and commanders while also guiding rescuers to the right spot, the ability of drones to save lives around the world is unmistakable.

References and Further Reading

The UAV - The Future Of The Sky
Search & Rescue: UAVs / Drones for Fire Service, Monitoring Etc.
Drone Swarms Will Soon Be Used for Search-and-Rescue Operations
A Drone Assistant For Search-And-Rescue Workers
DJI Documents Faster Search And Rescue Responses With Drones

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Benedette Cuffari

Written by

Benedette Cuffari

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Toxicology with two minors in Spanish and Chemistry in 2016, Benedette continued her studies to complete her Master of Science in Toxicology in May of 2018. During graduate school, Benedette investigated the dermatotoxicity of mechlorethamine and bendamustine; two nitrogen mustard alkylating agents that are used in anticancer therapy.


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