Tethered Drone Systems (TDS) has supported a special week-long event run by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) to test the use of drones.
From Monday 23 April to Friday 27 April along a stretch of South Wales coastline, a selection of drones were used in four different search and rescue scenarios to explore how they could be used to help save lives in the future.
The scenarios tested were a shoreline search for a casualty, an offshore search for multiple casualties in the sea, a mud rescue and a communications relay where a drone is required to relay information between rescue teams.
During the event, there was a particular focus on seeing how drones could work together with existing search and rescue teams and assets to enhance lifesaving capability and reduce risk to rescue teams, with RNLI lifeboats and HM Coastguard Rescue Teams featuring in the event’s scenarios.
TDS supported the event by providing an effective solution to a ‘Communications Relay’ challenge, where marine VHF radios used by the MCA team could no longer transmit and receive effectively as their line of sight signal was broken over a cliff face.
TDS provided a digital radio repeater to cover the area and the MCA team confirmed that once they lost their normal marine VHF signal the digital radios with repeated signal worked perfectly, with the tethered drone flying constantly over 40 metres up. A real success and demonstrating that a drone carrying this type of radio repeater can overcome loss of communications due to geographical features for VHF line of sight radio transmission.
TDS was supported in this challenge by Fern Communication of Lowestoft who providing all the radio equipment and especially the portable digital repeater for this challenge. Fern Com specialises in producing bespoke radio repeaters to meet many complex solutions.
Jim Gibson from TDS said: ‘As a small innovation-based company it was great to be selected for the challenge, and even better to see our solution work and prove that a tethered drone solution could assist search and rescue activity in the future.’
Hannah Nobbs, from the RNLI’s Innovation Team, said: ‘The aim of this event was to provide realistic scenarios and an authentic operating environment to explore the use of drones in multi-agency operations.
‘This week-long test event is the culmination of around two years of work, where we’ve explored the use of drones in collaboration with key search and rescue partners and industry experts. I’d like to thank all of the industry partners that have supported our work to explore the use of drones in search and rescue activity so far. Their expert input has been extremely valuable'.
Phil Hanson, Aviation Technical Assurance Manager at the MCA, said :'The MCA is always ready to embrace working with new technology - especially if that technology could enhance search and rescue efficiency, save more lives and reduce risk to our personnel'.
A variety of drones were used in the scenarios during the event, including rotary platforms that offer stability for electro-optic and thermal sensor payloads, a tethered drone and fixed wing platforms that are runway or catapult launched.
The vast amount of information and insights gained from this week-long test event will now be evaluated by the RNLI and the MCA to help assess how drones could be used in search and rescue activity in the future.