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Benefits of Drones in Search and Rescue

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Search and rescue is a field that is often glorified for its heroism and hardship. While that is true, those who work in search and rescue might have more to say about the hardship side.

Combing through the forest on foot, hiking on trails for days, and diving in lakes to find a drowned victim are no easy tasks and put the rescuers at risk of needing rescue themselves.

Drones alleviate much of the hardship in finding the subject of search and rescue.

From standard RGB camera drones to top-of-the-line thermal infrared drones and underwater sonar drones, the process of locating a victim has never been easier. 

Not only is locating the victim easier but using new heavy-lift drones, extractions of those lost or stranded individuals are becoming possible.

It’s only a matter of time before using this method of extraction is as common as using drones for location.

Standard Camera Drones For Search and Rescue #

This is what started it all. An unmanned aerial vehicle, a miracle.

When helicopters were too big and planes were too fast, small and risk-free drones allowed good samaritans, park rangers, and police to traverse where no man could. 

The applications for standard RGB camera drones are not limitless, but they are many.

In places like the Grand Canyon with sheer drop-off cliffs, rocky ravines, and rushing water, it takes days to cross this type of terrain.

With the dry heat, people perish from exposure often, mostly because no one knows that they are in danger.

Even if someone was aware that they were missing, finding them on foot would take too long.

Most drones today can fly for two miles when a line of sight is present. This means that a pilot can stand in one position, all the while scouting out every corner of the canyon.

Most hikers wear bright clothing, so spotting a lost or injured hiker would be easy with the tan backdrop.

Not only can a pilot manually fly the drone, but they can enter into an automated flight mode, allowing the drone to scan the canyon without missing an inch. 

Perhaps park rangers are on foot, traveling the canyon in search of the lost hiker. There is a ravine that is impossible to drop into without getting stuck.

They pull out their trusty mini drone and send it down the hole, discovering the unconscious hiker who missed the ravine and fell in. Life saved.

Thermal Drones For Search and Rescue #

The evolution of the standard camera drone is the thermal drone.

With this tool, finding a person whether they are wearing bright clothes or not becomes irrelevant.

The human body gives off a heat signature, usually hotter than the features around them. That’s how drones locate the victim.

Thermal drones vary in quality, accuracy, range, and durability. Some of these drones are “ruggedized”, meaning that they can handle poor weather conditions.

Other drones, such as the Parrot Anafi Thermal, are not. This isn’t to say it does a poor job of finding the missing person. 

The fact is, these thermal drones are not affordable. Many agencies invest a large percentage of their budget to purchase them.

But drones like the Parrot Anafi Thermal and the Mavic Enterprise Dual are affordable to individuals and agencies alike. 

Recently, an old man with dementia went missing for eight hours in Wisconsin.

It was a rural area, so there was no certain place he would be, and with the added effect of dementia, his confusion would cause him panic and result in him wandering farther into the wilderness.

His family thought he was done for. 

Luckily, the Outagamie County deputies deployed their thermal drone and within one hour they found him laying face-down in a cornfield, invisible to any passerby.

It’s obvious that using thermal drones will continue to benefit search and rescue operations in many ways, and as these drones become more affordable, the number of agencies and good samaritans using them will go up.

Underwater Drones For Search and Rescue #

With aerial drones making a big impact on the search and rescue field, it wasn’t long before underwater drones began doing the same thing.

Underwater drones have the capability of traversing areas that even rescue teams in full scuba gear may have difficulty accessing.

Underwater drones are known as ROVs or remotely-operated vehicles.

There is a variety of underwater drones on the market, some large and some small, but they can all be used beneficially.

For instance, a dive team is exhausted after hours of sweeping the bottom of a lake for a drowned victim. Their oxygen supply is getting low. 

Using an underwater drone, the search team is able to deploy their ROV and continue the search. Unlike divers who have to go through stages of pressurizing and depressurizing, the underwater drone can ascend and descend without fear of damage to blood vessels. You know, since it has none.

Underwater drones equipped with high-powered flood lights penetrate the dark waters and expose anything in their view.

These lights vary in effectiveness, but even in the poorest visibility, at least a foot of view is guaranteed.

Another benefit of the underwater drone in search and rescue is the amount of time it can spend underwater.

Even middle-of-the-road underwater drones can sustain a charge for up to two hours. This means from a fixed location, an ROV pilot can scan most of a lakebed for the missing person.

If more than one ROV pilot is present, the lake bed can be thoroughly scanned without risk to human life.

To further examine how underwater drones are benefiting the search and rescue field, ROVs can be outfitted with sonar detection units.

If using a camera to find missing persons isn’t enough, the ROV, in combination with sonar, can map out the lakebed and miss nothing in its dive.

This ensures that the darkest part of the lake can still be searched.

Some large underwater drones are outfitted with grappling arms. If the drone’s propulsion is strong enough, a rescue mission is possible. The underwater drone can cut through the riptide of the sea, and grab a person who is being washed out to sea. 

Using its guarded propellers, it can carry the person back to shore.

This tool is still being tested and expanded upon. Its uses and efficiency are only going to grow beyond its already amazing abilities.

Image Credit: Unmanned Aerial Operations


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