Drones to the rescue: UAV tech saving lives

November 30, 2017

Drones could soon be saving lives autonomously with UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) tech that can deliver aid and lift people to safety.

rescue drone UAV

You’re on your roof, surrounded by floodwater. You’re trying to decide if you should risk death by dehydration if you stay put, or death by drowning if you try to swim to freedom. But wait…is that a drone approaching? A compact drone touches down beside you, laden with food and water. Another maps your location in a fly-by, sending your coordinates to a heavy-lifting drone, which soon arrives to winch you to safety. UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) tech to the rescue.

Already used to carry out post-disaster aerial assessment, drones could soon be saving lives autonomously.

Humanitarian delivery drones

Last year, a Domino’s pizza made history as the first commercial food delivery by UAV. The delivery took place in New Zealand using a drone called Flirtey, co-created by Australian entrepreneur and CEO Matthew Sweeney, who is now turning his attention to the delivery of essential supplies to war and disaster zones.

Traditional humanitarian food drops using cargo planes (with or without parachutes attached to the packages) are often expensive, inefficient in comparison to road convoys and present a hazard to civilians. Winds present a technical challenge and they require a wide open drop zone, making them an avenue of last resort only.

Drones provide a degree of flight control which could avoid these issues. A UK company called Windhorse Aero is developing a lightweight, potentially even edible, UAV for aid delivery. In future iterations, parts of the frame and electronics could be made of food to maximise the delivery of supplies. Using Flirtey, Sweeney has demonstrated the delivery of packages of pharmaceuticals, while other startups such as Zipline Internationals are using drones in Rwanda to deliver blood for transfusions. 

Rescue drones

As weight lifting capabilities of drones improve, they have the capacity to delivery rescue ropes and life jackets when rescue crews are unable to reach people in danger. Griff Aviation recently announced that they have developed a people-lifting UAV, capable of lifting a payload of up to 225kg. It has been designed especially for the armed forces, fire fighters and search and rescue teams.

Across Australia, drones are being rolled out across fire-fighting units and can provide real time assessment of areas too dangerous to access, as well as providing rapid damage assessments . The next step is drones with firefighting capabilities. Global security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin is working on its unmanned K-MAX cargo helicopter, which has been demonstrated to both identify and put out a fire.

Dr Catherine Ball, CEO of drone education program SheFlies and co-creator of the World of Drones Congress, says that there needs to be a greater focus on the capabilities of “drones for good. We have a moral obligation to take on technologies that will potentially save lives.”

– Larissa Fedunik

Discover more about Australia’s drone revolution and read Dr Ball’s startup story here.

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