CES 2018 dr Rescue robotics

When a life is on the line, any drone can be a search and rescue drone. Putting a camera into the sky can be invaluable, delivering first aid materials can save lives, so any drone that can carry those things is a good search and rescue drone to me. That said, there are machines on the market that are designed to handle the various aspects and difficulties of saving lives, let’s take a look at a few of them.

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, don’t forget to follow local flight laws and get clearance for the airspace, if required. Saving a life is extremely important, just make sure you are not endangering others in your efforts.

Search and Rescue drones

DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise: Purpose built Search & Rescue tools

DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise at CES 2020

The DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise is a purpose-modified drone for search and rescue operations. Admitting that it is the DJI Mavic 2 airframe, there are software updates and accessory support that take things to new levels. There are a handful of useful tools available, but you’ll only be able to use a few at a time. For example, the powered top accessory port can only support one at a time of the spotlight, loud speaker, or location beacon.

 
Perhaps the best configuration for most is the dual-camera setup. Combining a zooming 4K camera with an infrared shooter to double your chances at spotting victims in places with minimal visibility.

 

Pros

 

  • Compact and familiar drone
  • Infrared and RGB dual camera
  • Multiple interchangeable accessories
  • Good flight time
  • Enhanced system security
Cons

 

  • One accessory at a time
 

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DJI Matrice 300 series: Multi-purpose camera configurations with precise GPS

The DJI Matrice 300 RTK is a powerful commercial drone, designed to tackle all of your inspection needs. From a technical perspective, searching for a crack in a bridge, a missing bolt in a cellphone tower, or leaking pipes on an oil rig is practically the same thing as searching for a person that has been lost in the woods. Infrared cameras help identify heat signatures, RGB cameras with zoom lenses help pilots take a closer look at things from afar, and the ability to get above the tree tops to scan a large area all plays a crucial part.

Beyond the basics of a visual inspection, the Matrice 300 RTK has, as the name implies, RTK GPS connectivity. This means it has millimeter precision in the sky, great for both ensuring time is not lost re-scanning an area, and ensuring you know where to send rescue efforts when the drone conducts a successful search.
Pros

 

  • Multiple payloads
  • Good flight time
  • Versatile cameras
  • Extreme GPS precision
Cons

 

  • Large drone
  • Best flown with two operators
 

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DJI Matrice 200 series: Almost as good as the M300, for a little less money

DJI XT2 thermal camera on M200 commercial drone landed

The DJI Matrice 200 series introduced a multi-payload system to DJI’s inspection drone line. Three models are available, with RTK and upward facing camera mount differentiating from the base model. Two hanging payload mounts allow you to choose from several RGB cameras, several infrared cameras, spotlights, loud speakers and more.

Earlier technology created some limitations that are not present on the newer 300 series drone, but this older 200 series is still very reliable and versatile for most inspection and search and rescue needs.

 

Pros

 

  • Multiple payloads
  • Optional RTK precision
Cons

 

  • Large drone
  • Best flown with two operators
 

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Yuneec H520: Hexacopter reliability

The Yuneec H520 is the commercial solution in the Typhoon line of hexacopter drones. Six propellers makes for stable and safe flight, interchangeable cameras allow you to choose the right payload for your operations, and support for open source software mean you can automate a lot of flight tasks.

Unfortunately, the H520 is limited to just one payload attachment at a time, so you will need to choose your camera carefully, potentially requiring you to come back in if you need to swap to infrared.

 

Pros

 

  • Hexacopter design
  • Easy to fly
  • Open source flexibility
Cons

 

  • Limited payloads
 

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DJI Mavic 2 Zoom: Long-distance vision

DJI Mavic 2 Zoom logo

That’s not a huge camera on the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom, but it has 4X optical and another 4X digital zoom. The result is the ability to get a closer look at things without having to get the drone too close to the subject. This is ideal for precarious rescue situations, and particularly helpful for covert operations.

The DJI Mavic 2 Zoom is a consumer drone, it has no particular features designed for commercial or rescue operations, but it is a reliable drone with good flight time and a 4K camera that is more than good enough as a set of eyes in the sky.

 

Pros

 

  • Small, folding drone
  • Portable
  • Consumer-class machine, with a consumer-class price
  • Easy to fly
Cons

 

  • No payload options
 

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DJI Mavic 2 Pro: Best consumer-class camera drone

dji-mavic-2-zoom-back-sensors-close-3

The DJI Mavic 2 Pro is the same base airframe as the Mavic 2 Zoom and Mavic 2 Enterprise. While the Mavic 2 Pro is the best consumer drone around, with a superior camera to the Zoom, it does not have zoom functions – meaning you’ll have higher quality imagery, but you’ll have to fly closer to the subject to get all the details.

We are happy to recommend the Mavic 2 Pro for consumer pilots, and it will be one of the best sets of eyes in the sky you can get your hands on, but it offers no specific search and rescue advantages.

 

Pros

 

  • Great camera
  • Super consumer drone
  • Easy to fly
  • Small and portable
Cons

 

  • No specific Search & Rescue tools
 

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UVify IFO-S: Swarm technology

UVify IFO S drone with Uvify logo

The UVify IFO-S is a capable AI drone with a powerful on-board computer. Advanced obstacle avoidance sensors enable intricate flights, and optional payloads make search and rescue tasks possible. Best of all, IFO-S is designed as part of a larger drone ecosystem. While the base model IFO is made for drone light shows, the IFO-S can do the same while performing other tasks. What we’re saying is that a full swarm of dozens, even hundreds of IFO-S can blanket an area with precision.

Imagine conducting a full grid search of a large area all from the safety of a nearby command station. That’s what the IFO-S can do for you.

Pros

 

  • Swarm technology
  • Powerful onboard computer with AI
Cons

 

  • Swarms take extra time to set up
  • Swarms take extra licenses and waivers
 

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What makes a good search and rescue drone?

CES 2018 dr Rescue robotics drone

As mentioned, if all you need is a camera in the sky, than the drone with the best range and battery life is the one you want. For a more thorough operation, a great drone for search and rescue will be equipped with multiple cameras, be able to haul a light, be strong enough to haul some medical supplies and maybe offer a way to communicate. That’s a good start, at least.

When we talk about multiple cameras, we are thinking of several things. First, a FPV camera for the pilot is a solid start, perhaps then a secondary camera controlled by a secondary operator. If nothing else, a secondary camera that sees a new view from what the pilot sees, even if only a GoPro or something pointing backwards on the drone. Taking things to the next level, infrared is the tool of choice for inspection and law enforcement. When looking for a lost hiker, being able to see a heat signature in the bush might be the only indication there is someone there.

Not many drones are equipped with a payload drop system, but an attached first aid kit can easily be removed from the machine if you can land close to the rescue target.

I don’t think I have to explain what spotlights are for, but I will explain communication. The DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise, for example, has an optional loud speaker. The speaker plays a pre-recorded message, which could be instructions, or just words of encouragement. Of course, law enforcement might share a different message over their speaker.

In the end, there are dozens of drones that can handle a search and rescue operation. We did not talk about waterproofing today, please keep that in mind as you outfit your search and rescue fleet. That said, we really think the DJI M300 series drones are the most robust offering for a search and rescue drone, it is an investment to equip fully, and is a larger machine, but the weather protection features and versatility for camera mounts is second to none as I write this. Just don’t forget that you can custom build a commercial drone to your exact needs, so consider that if you have the budget to do so.

Fly safe!


Frequently Asked Questions

Are search & rescue drones expensive?

Specialized search & rescue drones offer features that are above and beyond your typical consumer drone. In the case of the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise, for example, it is the same base platform as the Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom, but it also has an accessory mount to handle things like spotlights, indicator lights and more. The addition of infrared cameras also increase the price over off-the-shelf drones most of us want to purchase. We believe that search & rescue drones are note expensive, but they are not cheap either.

Is a search & rescue drone good for law enforcement?

Depending on your configuration, yes, many of the tools that make a search & rescue drone successful also work for law enforcement tasks. Spotlights, speakers, infrared cameras, and a simple eye-in-the-sky are all powerful tools for search operations that are not entirely intent on rescue.

Do I need a special license to fly search & rescue?

There are multiple license and operational considerations for search & rescue operations. Government entities can apply for a COA (Certificate of Authorization,) that supersedes other sUAS licenses, or you can operate with your Part 107 certification. If your flight will be in a TFR area, you’ll need to work closely with the lead authority for the emergency. For example, you can only fly near a fire if you are doing so as part of the command operations by the fire department. In the end, flying a drone for search & rescue needs to officially be a part of search & rescue operation.

Can I fly at night?

The FAA has initiated new laws that will allow for night flight operations by certified Part 107 pilots. These laws will be in place within the first few months of 2021. Hobby pilots may not fly at night within the current recreational rules.


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