Field Test – Should Drones be used in Search & Rescue Missions

By Jameis Zaslav

For my NTNM field test I chose to use a drone and see how practical it would be to use to find a lost/hurt/missing person, and if it could cut down the time it takes a search party to find a lost/hurt/missing person. When natural or manmade disasters occur, or even simple accidents, remote-controlled technologies can go into areas and search for survivors where people cannot. This ability to go where rescue teams can’t, could mean the difference between life and death for a stranded hiker. Drones can be flown from a remote location using a program that operators can run on a laptop, iPad or smartphone. I personally used my iPad to fly the drone for these trials.

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Search and rescue missions are time-consuming, expensive, and often dangerous for the people involved. Drones would be perfect for search and rescue missions, it is an easy way to cover large areas of inaccessible terrain, even at night. Night-vision cameras and thermal cameras that sense and map temperature would make finding a missing person easy in the dark.

While this topic doesn’t directly correlate to my major of Television, Radio & Film, I believe using the new technology in this way would be beneficial to society. I am also really interested in drones and I have been since my brother got me one for my birthday this past summer.

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The Experiment: For my experiment I had my friend hide in the woods in Thornden Park as well as at my fraternity house and I recorded how long it took for me to find them. I did a few trials of this in order to get an average time for the on-foot trials. Next I used the drone and flew over Thornden in order to locate my missing friend. I did a handful of trials in order to get an average time for the drone trials.

On-Foot Trials The on-foot trials proved to be difficult. Trial One took me over two minutes to find my friend who was over one hundred yards away. Trial Two proved to be more difficult as my friend chose a hiding spot that was on the other side of the park. That trial took me ten minutes and twenty two seconds. I did a few more trials but got similar results and tired legs from walking. The average time to find my friend on foot was six minutes and twelve seconds.

Drone Trials The drone trials moved a bit quicker. Trial One it took me forty-six seconds to find my friend who was hiding in the woods. Trial Two took me one minute to find my friend who was in the atrium. Trial Three was the fastest as I found my friend in twenty three seconds. Drones move quickly, faster than people can and there were some issues with the trials.

Here is a recording of trial two:

Im not a trained pilot! I am not trained to search for missing persons, and I do not know the proper techniques of doing so. I am also not trained to use the drones, I had to learn on the fly (pun!). While I did get the hang of it, flying the drones proved to be extremely difficult. The conditions were not perfect because there was wind so the drone had a tough time keeping its balance. Perhaps the best way to maximize a drones efficiency would be to only allow licensed pilots to fly these drones. There would be two pilots for each drone, one person would have to navigate the device and another to pan and zoom the camera, looking for stranded people.

Below is a video of me failing to fly the drone correctly. You can clearly see my struggles and my inability to steer the drone.

Limitations of a commercial drone: My drone is a commercial drone, and is not equipped with thermal cameras or night vision. This limited me to day trials because the drone’s vision is completely black in the dark. It could do some cool tricks though, like barrel rolls and 360 spins.

Here is a video of me doing tricks with my drone:

Live streaming the video an issue? With some drones, any footage taken by onboard cameras has to be uploaded once the drone returns, this poses an immediate problem to using drones for search and rescue missions because you wouldn’t be able to get live video. I read online about a Maine search team that uses live stream imagery, which means it is not impossible to do. The drone I used allowed you to view what the camera on it saw live on your iPad, so even though you cannot upload the video you can still see and use it to locate people

Findings: This field test proved that drones are a valid replacement for search parties. They move faster than people in search parties, can cover more land and go places people cant, for example, over water. Drones will cut down the time search teams take, which will lead to more people being saved. The best way to maximize a drones efficiency would be to only allow licensed pilots to fly these drones. There would be two pilots for each drone, one person would have to navigate the device and another to pan and zoom the camera, looking for stranded people. Also equipping night-vision cameras and thermal cameras onto the drone would allow it to be used today. I believe this use is totally doable in today’s world and some people have already started to use it. I think they need to be improve the things I touched on before they can be used world wide for this purpose.

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