We must see drones as another team member or another item of equipment. It will purely strengthen agencies' capabilities if used correctly, but will not solve all of the issues surrounding difficult aerial searches, writes Oisin McGrath
Mech

DroneSAR is a UAV search and rescue (SAR) platform designed to rapidly execute autonomous aerial search patterns, capture and relay live drone video and offer a first person view (FPV) solution for incident command when co-ordinating emergency first response. DroneSAR enables the commercially available off-the-shelf drones (affordable drones) with a range of rescue specific functions.

DroneSAR was established as a direct result of the collaborative input of four individuals who each possess expertise and skillsets that are specific to the world of drone technology, network and satellite communication and search and rescue (SAR) co-ordination and emergency response: Oisin McGrath, Matthew Kelly, Leo Murray and Gearoid O Briain.

“Drones will solve all of our problems”

Unfortunately, this statement resonates through the drone community but the reality is far from true. We must see drones as another team member or another item of equipment. It will purely strengthen agencies’ capabilities if used correctly, but will not solve all of the issues surrounding difficult aerial searches.

The DJI Mavic, €1,500

Common pitfalls of using drones in aerial searches


1.) Training, skill and experience: As these machines are GPS enabled and have auto take-off and auto land functions, the motor skill required to operate them is negligible. They can be removed from the box and flown in 30 minutes.

As a result, the machines can give the perception of flying skill which will only become an issue when the flying area or search to be completed gets difficult. Training is paramount, which will include full understanding of the regulatory environment and technical aspects of the machines.

2.) Field of view: As we look around day to day, we have an approximate field of view of 180-210 degrees. This makes ground search very easy with a 360 view by turning one’s head. Due to the cameras aboard these machines and the live feed to the operator, the field of view is severely reduced. The normal range is from 78-94 degrees, which can cause issues when searching.

The DJI Phantom 4, €1,500

With a visible horizon, determining the drone’s direction and location is not difficult, but as we search with a camera tilt angle of 60 degrees down, trying to determine the drone location can be difficult.

3.) Drones will only do what they are told: As ground-based teams become airborne, it is extremely likely that ‘random’ search patterns will be conducted. It is very easy to fly the drone in random patterns which will leave some areas eliminated from the area to be covered. A much more regulated search pattern must be used in order that we cover the required area with no areas missing.

4.) Share location: As we search, we must have a plan as to what will happen once we arrive overhead the victim. Drones are not capable of conducting a rescue but again are very capable of ‘delivering’ a package with some essentials (radio, hypothermic blanket, and so on).

The DJI Inspire, €3,500 (Thermal Camera option – extra €3,000 approx)

Another consideration is that we have to be able to share the drone location once the victim is found. The team members must be able to receive the location of the victim, as quicky as possible, in order to concentrate resources on the rescue. Off-the-shelf drones do not have this capability without adding specialist software.

How DroneSAR evolved


The DroneSAR software has evolved as a direct result of a research project conducted jointly by the European Emergency Number Association (EENA) and DJI (world’s leading drone manufacturer) to investigate the deployment of drone hardware and software solutions across all sectors of emergency response.

The DJI M600, €8,000 to €14,000 depending on sensors required

The DroneSAR team comprises a unique combination of SAR personnel with specialist skillsets that include SAR search management and incident control; manned (rotor and fixed wing) and unmanned (UAV) aviation instruction; R&D; and satellite/software engineering expertise specific to the drone industry.

This fusion of specialist ‘in-the-field’ skillsets has set the DroneSAR team apart from other drone-software development entities, to bring to market a state-of-the-art drone app software that encompasses space technology assets to deliver live, ‘in the moment’ situational awareness and first person view (FPV) capabilities to responding agencies so that informed decisions can be made more quickly and lives saved.

What we do


At its most basic level, DroneSAR allows drone plots to easily choose automatic flight patterns for early stage aerial search. Primary aerial search will involve searches along handrail features such as tree lines, walls, tracks and streams.

The DJI M200 series (Released Feb 2017)

Our waypoint mission function allows the pilot to choose these missions, autonomously fly the drone while he/she can concentrate on watching the live video. For more open areas, pilots can choose custom grid patterns to ensure nothing is missed for much larger search areas.

During the flight, pilots can drop pins for areas of interest and if something is found, they can share the drone location to pre-entered team members, allowing them to stop and reassign resources to make the rescue.

At its next level, DroneSAR allows command and control to view live drone position and live video from any internet browser. The live stream function allows incident control and search management to remotely track the drone, and obtain an ‘in the moment’ first person view of its search patterns and captured high definition footage fed through to connected devices (smartphones, laptops and monitoring screens) located either in the vicinity of the incident area or remotely to other ‘search managers’ at national and regional control centres.

Where to next


We are now seeking to deliver a complimentary fusion of drone data collected by the DroneSAR platform and the interactive geospatial satellite data accessed through the Copernicus Emergency Management System (EMS) which will seek to ensure that UAVs can be used methodically as part of a rescue protocol during emergency and disaster response.

This will allow pilots to receive up-to-date satellite images following disasters to allow them to make better informed decisions on their search patterns. We have developed a recent partnership with AstroSAT, a Scottish company which is leading the way in satellite data transfer, and aims to integrate its Recovery and Protection in Disaster (RAPID) with geotagged and timestamped HD video and images supplied by DroneSAR.

Using artificial intelligence, we have now developed a method of automatically detecting people as the drones flies.

In mission-critical operations, visual data is a necessity for information purposes. To describe a current situation, that may need a reaction, and in order to decide what actions are appropriate, big data during initial response is necessary to support rapid decisions.

This data needs to be obtained, communicated and understood in operational real time. The reality for big data (including drone and satellite EO data) to be truly applicable in disaster response means that they ultimately need a robust support service at the back end that will assimilate, combine, process and transfer quickly and at the highest possible quality and speed. This service is vital if pitfalls and barriers of drone integration into rescue protocols are to be addressed.

About the team


Leo Murray is deputy team leader in Donegal mountain rescue and has a background in product research and design.

Matthew Kelly is an award winning app developer and mountain rescue volunteer. He also has degrees in electronics and satellite communications.

Gearoid O Briain is currently on a scholarship in Smurfit Business school completing his MBA. He is also a military manned and unmanned aircraft instructor.

Our vision is to strengthen the search and rescue industry by enabling all commercially available drones with a range of rescue functions. Custom-built drones, which can come with a range of custom sensors and parts, are very expensive and may deplete an agency’s budget very quickly.

Coupled with that, at the early stages of an agency’s development of unmanned aircraft capability, it is not wise to allow inexperienced personnel to fly machines worth €40,000 to €50,000.

Instead, it is much more operationally effective to purchase a number of small commercial drones that are fit for purpose but also within the budgetary range. These machines, due to their low cost, are somewhat disposable.

When we speak about commercial drones we mean those that are available to buy directly off the shelf. These machines range in price from €1,000 all the way to €15,000 depending on the sensors that are carried by them. Some examples of DJI drones are listed above. (DJI are the biggest drone manufacturer in the world and have a 70 per cent global market share).

Author: Oisin McGrath, CEO, DroneSAR, graduated from the University of Limerick with a first class honours degree in aeronautical engineering in 2002. During his final year, he applied for the Air Corps cadetships and was accepted. He received his presidential commission as an officer in the Defence Forces and military pilots wings in September 2004. Since then, he has flown fixed wing aircraft and helicopters across a range of roles including special forces ops, Garda Air Support Unit, Cargo slinging and night vision operations. He now serves as a helicopter instructor in 302 Squadron, teaching newly qualified pilots how to fly helicopters across all of the military disciplines. With a love of unmanned systems, he set up FlyRyte Drone Academy with co-founder Gearoid O Briain with the aim of educating and training drone pilots across the country. Both are Irish Aviation Authority approved drone instructors and examiners. This led to their involvement with DroneSAR.

http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/a9-1024x768.pnghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/a9-300x300.pngDavid O'RiordanMechaeronautical,Artificial Intelligence,drones
DroneSAR is a UAV search and rescue (SAR) platform designed to rapidly execute autonomous aerial search patterns, capture and relay live drone video and offer a first person view (FPV) solution for incident command when co-ordinating emergency first response. DroneSAR enables the commercially available off-the-shelf drones (affordable drones) with...