Drones are innovative technologies that can provide search and rescue professionals with enhanced capabilities. Here, AZoRobotics explores the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in sea rescue operations.
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Drones – The Rise of These Innovative Technologies
Drones are fast becoming ubiquitous applications in key industries such as law enforcement, the military, the delivery sector, mining, and many others. Significant advances in technologies such as batteries and increased payload capabilities have driven the exponential growth of the drone market.
Regulations have also played a vital role in the growth of drone technologies for commercial applications, including their use by companies such as Amazon. The FAA in the U.S. has introduced rules that will allow them to fly above people and at night.
Civil aviation authorities are aiming to streamline commercial drone regulations, allowing the full integration of these technologies into civilian airspace, as well as addressing security and safety concerns. Advances in technology and the development of specific rules governing drones will doubtless see their routine operation.
The Challenges of Search and Rescue Operations
Every year, many people get in trouble at sea and in the wild, requiring their rescue by trained professionals. The scale of the need for search and rescue is vast – in the Mediterranean sea alone, it is estimated that 1,369 migrants died between January and September 2021.
In wilderness rescue operations, challenges exist with the remote and inaccessible nature of environments such as mountains and woodland, requiring multiple trained professionals, volunteers and search dogs. These efforts can be time-consuming and require significant resources, and there is the risk that individuals may not be found in time.
At sea, many of the same problems are encountered by search and rescue teams. Oceans are especially dangerous environments, presenting a risk to life for not only the individuals that need rescuing but to the rescuers themselves. Rescue operations at sea can evolve rapidly, presenting unique challenges.
How Can UAVs Improve Sea Rescue Operations?
Innovative technologies are increasingly playing a pivotal role in sea rescue operations. Training, prevention, and innovation are three development focuses in the current sea rescue sector, which can be significantly improved by deploying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs.)
UAVs offer a wealth of enhanced capabilities for rescue teams, including the ability to operate in remote areas and inclement weather conditions, thermal imaging capabilities, precise GPS location capabilities, monitoring, and improved safety for rescue teams. They are also extremely cost-effective, far cheaper than alternatives such as helicopters.
The past decade has seen significant developments in applying UAVS in sea rescue operations. In December 2014, the Norwegian Rescue Society (Redningsselskapet) purchased its first rescue drone. Since then, society has continued to invest in UAV technologies to support rescue teams.
The Remote Piloted Aircraft System, which has seen successful application in Norwegian rescue operations, has proven itself as a reliable partner for rescue teams due to its functionality.
This technology offers 360o aerial views and includes a return-to-base function when the battery reaches critical levels. Its follow-me function also allows it to accurately monitor the location of the rescue boat. Able to operate in conditions such as heavy fog, it is an integral part of the Redningsselskapet’s toolkit.
In the UK, the Coastguard announced the Pathfinder project to elicit bids from drone manufacturers for solutions that can support coastal search and rescue operations. The project’s aim is to assess the suitability of drones for evaluating situations and locations ahead of the arrival of rescue teams.
Additionally, in the UK, the RNLI and Coastguard have collaborated to evaluate drone use in four common sea and coastal rescue scenarios – mud rescue in high sand dunes, shoreline searches, open water offshore search scenarios, and situations where casualty contact is limited due to location or injuries.
The RNLI is currently evaluating the use of SplashDrone 4, a cost-effective waterproof drone solution that can be outfitted with equipment such as a loudspeaker, torch, and infrared camera. The drone can withstand 45 miles per hour wind speeds as well as weather conditions such as snow or heavy rain.
SARGO (Search and Rescue – Go) is a new maritime drone that can be deployed via parachute from search and rescue aircraft. Developed by Australian firm Aeromech, production is planned to begin in 2023. The drone carries critical payloads such as a radio, life raft, and supplies, assisting in rescue operations.
Existing technology doesn’t allow for a device to be dropped from a search and rescue aircraft using a parachute, carry a lifesaving package onboard, and then remotely navigate to the people in need at the same range that SARGO™ can. That’s what makes SARGO™ a very exciting development for rescue services.
Joe Bryant, Founder and Director, Aeromech,
UAVs can help maritime search and rescue operations, improving their efficiency and helping to save lives at sea, supporting rescue teams by providing enhanced capabilities. Able to operate remotely in inclement weather conditions, much focus has been placed on their operational use in recent years.
Threat to life from maritime accidents is an ever-present threat, and search and rescue operations can be costly and time-consuming. UAVs provide cost-effective solutions to rescue operations that improve safety and help to save more people trapped at sea. In the coming decades, their use will doubtless increase.
References and Further Reading
Cuenca, O (2022) Australian aerospace firm unveils maritime SAR drone [online] airmedandrescue.com. Available at: https://www.airmedandrescue.com/latest/news/australian-aerospace-firm-unveils-maritime-sar-drone
Perlman, E (2022) Drones could fly to the rescue of people in trouble at sea [online] thetimes.co.uk. Available at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/drones-could-fly-to-the-rescue-of-people-in-trouble-at-sea-5r3z6td0d
AltiGator (website) Drones to support sea rescue operations [online] altigator.com. Available at: https://altigator.com/en/drones-to-support-sea-rescue-operations
Coptrz (2020) All Out To Sea – How Drones Can Transform Coastal Rescue [online] coptrz.com. Available at: https://coptrz.com/blog/all-out-to-sea-how-drones-can-transform-coastal-rescue/