How a Research-Driven Approach to Drones Can Help Us Save Lives

Oct 30, 2019 12:40 PM ET
Blog

This post was written by guest blogger Gemma Alcock. Gemma is an award-winning innovator and respected thought-leader in the use of drones for emergency response and public safety. Gemma was recently selected in a prestigious competition as the woman making the most difference in drones for search and rescue (SAR) around the world, receiving the title of the ‘Woman to Watch in UAS 2018.’ She is truly committed to and passionate about creating a future in which drones will routinely be a tool for saving lives

To hear more from Gemma, register for the upcoming Women Rock IT : Drones & Data Protection Live event happening November 6th here.

Drones are changing public safety operations for the better. New emerging drone technologies are seducing public safety organizations with the promise of reducing search times, improving situational awareness, enhancing team safety, reducing costs, and even the potential of delivering medical supplies ahead of rescue teams. Drones are disrupting the modus operandi of public safety operations by acting as a force multiplier for our Emergency Services. The drone revolution is one few can ignore. No Emergency Service around the world is immune from this torrent of disruption: fire services, voluntary search and rescue (SAR) organizations, and more are all experimenting with drones. And this is just the beginning.

That being said, as with the emergence of any new technology, gaps in research and understanding can cause mistakes. There is an industry-wide concern that much is being said and done in the world of public safety drone operations without empirical evidence on best practice. Charles Werner, Director – DRONERESPONDERS Public Safety Alliance explains, “While public safety adopts the use of and is seeing great success with drones, there is still a huge gap in a research-driven approach to the development of training programs, resources and best practices. This void significantly reduces the full potential that could be realized by public safety’s drones.”

Therefore as usage of drones by Emergency Services expands, it is imperative that an unbiased research-driven approach is taken to move forward effectively and efficiently. By “unbiased,” I mean a research-driven approach that focuses on negative results as equally as positive results. In taking this approach, my company – SkyBound Rescuer – has highlighted and solved problems that may have otherwise gone unnoticed and unsolved. Two key SAR trials that included drones demonstrate these findings.

A SAR trial called the Drone Efficacy Study (DES) found that when a team equipped with a drone finds a missing person, they do it 3.18 minutes faster than a non-drone team. Furthermore, the results of a different SAR trial, dubbed Exercise Northumberland, clearly indicated that drones have the potential to provide the same high success rate during a search in a rapid timeframe as a helicopter asset. Of course, both of these results are significantly positive and hugely support the need for drone technology in a SAR setting. However, within these same trials, research also highlighted some performance concerns when compared to the reliability and efficiency of other SAR assets/teams. That must not be overlooked by the aforementioned positive results. Within the DES, despite being quicker, the drone teams exhibited an 8% reduction in the probability of detection when compared to the find rate of the ground crews: the drone teams found the casualty fewer times than the ground teams, despite the higher height of eye advantage that a drone can offer. This indicates a reliability problem. Furthermore, two of the drone teams within the Exercise Northumberland trial were using exactly the same drone – the DJI Inspire 1; both teams covered the same search area to detect the same search targets. Ergo, the only differences between these two teams were the individual team members and the organizations they represent. However, the performance was starkly different: one of the teams achieved a 50% success rate in 13 minutes, the other team achieved a 100% success rate in 47 minutes. This finding indicates that totally different tactics were being employed, which further indicates a reliability problem. In contrast, there were four different ground teams within this same study, all teams covered different search areas to find different search targets. Yet all ground teams scored the same 100% success rate and at very similar speeds per kilometer too – suggesting that ground SAR tactics are advanced and standardized to such a degree that all teams can repeatedly achieve the same high performance, regardless of organization, individuals, experience level, search area, or search targets. It is crucial that drone performance reach this same level of maturation. Yes, these two SAR trials wielded some truly positive results for drones, but the negative results around reliability must be given equal attention.

Throughout my recent Drone Procedure Optimisation Study (DPOS) with Essex Police, we addressed the low efficiency and low reliability problems that research had been highlighting. The solutions we developed throughout the study achieved the following key results for Essex Police drone pilots:

  • 90-91% drone procedural accuracy (up from 59-62%)
  • Time savings of 14 hours per year
  • 30-36% improvement in safety critical procedures
  • 10-15% improvement in procedures critical for mission success
  • 16-23% improvement in procedures critical for equipment longevity

Download the full report here.

We are just at the beginning of realizing the true potential and capability of drones for public safety. The results of our DPOS indicate that there are still a lot of improvements to be made while also emphasizing the importance of taking an unbiased research-driven approach within this sector. But one thing is already clear: drones are saving lives quicker, safer, and cheaper than ever before – and that will only continue to improve as we learn how best to optimize drone performance for Emergency Services. It is a truly exciting and rewarding space to be working in.

#DronesSaveLives