Life-saving rescue could be game changer for drone adoption

The DraganFlyer X8. Photo from DraganFly Innovations, Inc.

Search and rescue often is touted as one of the areas where unmanned aircraft, commonly called drones, can do the most good with existing technology.

SAR, as it’s called in the business, will only make up a small part of the economic pie for the unmanned aircraft industry, according to an economic report by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). But out of all of the potential applications, due to the personal impact and high news visibility of missing persons, it has the potential to be the greatest asset in public acceptance of drones.

If a positive public perception translates into acceptance, history might show that Thursday was a game-changer in terms of domestic drone adoption.

Very early Thursday night, Royal Canadian Mounted Police located a man who had wandered off from the scene of a crash and became lost. He could have died of hypothermia. Instead, he was spotted by a drone.

It’s important to note SAR has been done before with unmanned aircraft. Gene Robinson, who directs the 501(c)3 not-for-profit RP Search Services, has been documenting his searches involving unmanned aircraft since 2010. Sadly, many search operations don’t have a happy ending.

One key difference that led to a successful RCMP search was time. According to the Saskatoon Star Pheonix, the man had wandered from the scene wearing little more than a shirt and pants. Police received a report of the crash shortly after midnight on Thursday morning, and about two hours later, the RCMP drone, a Dragan Flyer X4-ES, arrived at the scene.

Another key difference in this operation was that the missing person had a cell phone, from which authorities could find an approximate location. However, that information alone wasn’t enough to locate the person with a manned helicopter.

It was only with the much smaller, lower-flying UAV, aided by its forward-looking infrared camera (FLIR), that authorities were able to find the heat signature of the missing person. He was found in a fetal position, already suffering from hypothermia.

“To my estimation, by daylight we wouldn’t have been looking for a live person,” said RCMP Cpl. Doug Green, who piloted the multirotor UAV, according to the Star Pheonix.

RCMP reportedly had been using the Dragan Flyer for more than a year, but hadn’t used it for a search and rescue operation.

If there’s any doubt about the potential for unmanned aircraft to do some good domestically, this could be a powerful a case study in favor of UAS integration.

Matthew Schroyer is the and founder of DroneJournalism.org, and is a co-founder of the transdisciplinary research consultancy DronesForGood.com. He can be reached at mschroyer@gmail.com, or on Twitter as @matthew_ryan.

Originally posted on mentalmunition.com.