A flying robot, which can search autonomously for missing persons in large areas, equipped with sensors (thermal cameras, etc.), was presented by the Rega air rescue service (active in Switzerland and Liechtenstein).
According to the company -which has been working on its own drones project in the last year and a half- this drone will be sent to search missions for missing, injured or sick patients to reinforce their conventional search and help efforts; e.g. rescue helicopters can not take off due to weather. At present, however, extensive test flights are required before drone can be used in search and rescue operations, which is expected from 2020 onwards.
During the development of the system, Rega took advantage of decades of experience in search and rescue missions.
“We noticed the development of drones technology early and we were always confident that drones would be useful in research missions“,
said Sasa Hardeger, head of helicopter operations, who is also responsible for the project. However, there is currently no market-powered drone that meets Rega’s requirements; in particular, it is not possible to use a relatively small, light and flexible drone at distances of several kilometers and for many hours without visual contact with the operator.
“As a result, we took the initiative and decided to develop a drone ourselves, in partnership with appropriate partners”,
It is essentially a small helicopter with three propeller blades. During a mission fly at a height of 80-100 meters above the ground and using satellite navigation investigates large areas with precision, operating autonomously, moving on a predetermined route. It is capable of locating on its own and avoiding other aircraft or obstacles through collision avoidance systems as well as data on its computer, such as digital models in the business area. It is not intended for use in densely populated areas or near airports, and it also has a parachute.
The detection of the missing persons is done by a series of sensors, and the camera image (day and infrared) is examined in real time using the self learning algorithm. The software is developed in collaboration with ETH Zurich. If it is assumed that a person has been identified then the information is sent to the operator on the ground. It is also intended to be able to locate mobile phones, which will allow them to find phones -and most likely their owners- at a distance of several hundred meters, even in remote areas.