Rega, an air rescue organization based in Switzerland, has announced an autonomous drone that will help with search and rescue missions.
The Rega drone uses its three rotor blades with a diameter of more than 2 m, to fly at an altitude of 80-100 m. Satellite navigation and a predefined route bolster its effort to scour the landscape for people in distress. Anti-collision systems and data from the drone’s in-flight computer help the aircraft avoid obstacles.
The drone won’t be seen over airfields, airports, or densely populated regions, and if something goes awry, it’s equipped with an emergency parachute.
Onboard sensors, such as infrared and daylight cameras, are ready to pinpoint a missing person’s location. The drone’s self-learning algorithms, developed in collaboration with ETH Zurich, categorize the sensors’ signals in real time. If a person is detected, that news is quickly relayed to the ground operators.
An integrated mobile phone tracking system will also be added to the Rega drone’s arsenal. It’ll be able to nab a mobile phone’s location from several hundred meters away, hoping to find its owner nearby.
“Ever since it was founded, Rega has continually used cutting-edge technology to further improve air rescue and to come to the aid of even more people in distress,” says Rega CEO Ernst Kohler. “I am confident that the Rega drone will expand our scope of operations even further.”
Although autonomous, the Rega drone is meant to supplement missions, rather than go it alone.
“Even if the drone is unmanned and can fly autonomously, it still needs a well-trained drone crew, comprising an operator and a pilot, to coordinate the search with the various rescue teams and to deploy the drone effectively,” Sascha Hardegger, head of helicopter operations and leader of the project, says.
Hardegger adds, “Difficult person searches only have a chance of succeeding if all the rescue teams involved work closely together. In certain cases, the drone will be a useful supplementary aid, but it will never completely replace the Rega helicopter and its crew. If the search for an ill or injured person proves successful, a Rega helicopter or other form of rescue will still be needed to recover the person or fly medical assistance to the site of the incident.”
Rega offered air support to search for people in need on 160 occasions in 2018. Hardegger believed drones could offer additional support, however, current systems weren’t up to par. For example, small, nimble drones flying for several hours and miles needed visual contact from the drone pilot.
So, Rega took the design in their own hands and collaborated with industry partners on a project that already has 18 months of development under its belt. Further test flights are in the Rega drone’s future before it can offer its search assistance sometime in 2020.
(Video Source: Rega)