A Comprehensive Breakdown of What ‘The Commercial UAV Show 2016’ Had to Offer Search and Rescue – Part 2

SEARCH AND RESCUE DRONE COMPARISON COMPETITION:

Please note: the technical term for drones – ‘unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)’ – will be used throughout this blog post.

This section looks to gather all the technical information on the different unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) airframes from the previous section, strip away all technical jargon, and translate their specifications into language that describes their performance within the search and rescue (SAR) world. Their performance within a variety of areas is compared directly against one another to find an overall winner.

The competition has been split into different areas of importance for a SAR UAV, these are:

  • Visibility
  • Mission Convenience: Searching/Surveying
  • Usability
  • Weather Capabilities
  • Portability
  • Safety
  • Launching
  • Recovery
  • Storage
  • Proof of Concept

Notably, cost will not be compared within this competition because that shouldn’t be a losing or winning factor, cost is often indicative of quality. Not always, but often. The UAVs will be judged on performance over cost. While I understand that cost is a major concern for SAR agencies, a less intuitive UAV will have greater training costs, a less reliable UAV will have greater maintenance costs, and so on. Perhaps a larger initial investment will become the cheapest option in the long-term.

Please note: The use of “N/A” does not indicate that the product does or does not have this quality, it indicates that no literature or information publicly available highlights it, and – in most cases – individual contact regarding the specific topic has been attempted, but to no avail.

ROUND 1 – VISIBILITY:

visibility-title

Knowing help is on its way can act as a psychological boost for struggling casualties, which has proven influence over survival rates. Therefore, a UAV that is highly visible in the sky – that preferably indicates its SAR purpose – will aid in informing causalities that help is nearby. Colour and size will enhance this factor during daylight, and LEDs will assist with this at night.

The outlined square indicates the winner(s) for that section of the round.

visibility

Notes for Understanding:

  • The orange on the GUAV8’s struts gave it the colour category win.

Scoreboard:

round1

ROUND 2 – MISSION CONVENIENCE: SEARCHING/SURVEYING:

searching-title

Conducting a search with a higher height of eye or surveying an incident for situational awareness seem to be the top two uses for UAVs in SAR operations. Thus, it is necessary to compare features that influence the convenience of these procedures. A longer endurance increases its usefulness in these two incident types, a bigger display size makes searching for small objects easier whilst enhancing your immediate visualisation of the situation, its payload options dictate the type of data that can be collected within these scenarios, and its maximum speed demonstrates how fast it can reach remote search areas or surveillance locations.

Lastly, with regard to ‘Battery Quantity’ and ‘Total Cost of Batteries’, this is based on a case study example of The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). The RNLI’s average search length is 5 hours, the values given within the table elude to how many extra batteries and how much these extra batteries would cost in order to complete an average search length via UAV for the RNLI, to further exemplify each UAV’s convenience when searching. Each UAV comes with a different amount of batteries, the below list indicates how many are included with each product:

  • Typhoon H PRO RS – includes 1 battery
  • Wingcopter – includes 3 batteries
  • GUAV8 – includes 1 battery
  • Flydeo Y6 – includes 1 battery
  • SkyRanger – includes 3 batteries

The outlined square indicates the winner(s) for that section of the round.

searching

Notes for Understanding:

  • Exact display sizes weren’t available for all UAVs, instead size indications were estimated based on images of their ground station.
  • The Flydeo Y6 won the payload category as it offers a heavier payload, hence less of a restriction on choice.

Scoreboard:

round2

ROUND 3 – USABILITY:

usability-title

Usability will help reduce the amount of training required to become a competent UAV operator for a given UAV, which in turn will cutback on training costs. The ground station is the interface in which you control your UAV – hence an important factor in usability, simplicity is key here. Multiple buttons and joysticks may well be the best way to fly after hours and hours of practice, but a simpler interface will allow for less specialist training and more intuitiveness. Automated features enable the UAV to relieve the operator of some control responsibility, especially with regards to the harder flying tasks, such as landing or proximity flying. Dual control can help halve the responsibilities, meaning one operator focuses on flying and the other focuses on the live image. Indication of heading is important for returning the UAV to a landing area. Also, when flying in GPS-stricken areas the UAV is likely to drift with the wind direction, an indication of heading would increase the ease of control for cancelling this factor out – a somewhat tricky manoeuvre if you cannot distinguish which direction it is facing. Finally, training is an extremely important factor. The training provided by a CAA approved flight school towards a commercial UAV license is not aircraft specific. Each UAV is controlled differently; specific training on your UAV purchase would ease that transition for a new pilot – equating to fewer training hours hence a lower training cost for an organisation.

The outlined square indicates the winner(s) for that section of the round.

usability

Notes for Understanding:

  • The Typhoon H PRO RS, the GUAV8 and the SkyRanger have sophisticated automated features for enhanced usability; a draw within this category is certainly justified.
  • The SkyRanger won the indication of heading section due to its ability to indicate it’s heading even without illumination.

Scoreboard:

round3

ROUND 4 – WEATHER CAPABILITIES:

weather-title

Weather capabilities need very little explanation on its importance for SAR teams; SAR happens in all weathers, all year round. Search assets are weatherproofed to the highest level, and UAVs need to follow suit. All aspects within this table are self-explanatory on their relevance to weather capabilities.

The outlined square indicates the winner(s) for that section of the round.

weather

Notes for Understanding:

  • Typhoon H PRO RS has the broadest operational temperature range, a total range of 80oC, hence its win within that section.

Scoreboard:

round4

ROUND 5 – PORTABILITY:

portability-title

Although size is necessary for visibility, a notable drawback for SAR teams in achieving this is their inherent lack of space for transportation. Therefore, portability considerations have to be factored into a UAV design for them. Again, all aspects of this table are self-explanatory elements to portability.

The outlined square indicates the winner(s) for that section of the round.

portability

Notes for Understanding:

  • The Typhoon H PRO RS’ rucksack option won its category due to the ease and comfort of carrying a rucksack over carrying a hard case.
  • The SkyRanger’s remote charging option won its section, because it can charge 2 batteries at a time.

Scoreboard:

round5

ROUND 6 – SAFETY:

safety-title

Safety of SAR team members is a high priority for all teams; therefore a UAV with inherent safety features will fulfil end-user needs to a higher level. Propeller guards ensure that even in unfortunate incidents of the UAV coming into contact with a human, the human is protected from the danger posed by the propellers. Fail-safe features are integrated within a UAV to help cancel out or minimise human error, such as running out of battery in order to return to the landing area. A redundant system means the duplication of critical components within a system or the allowance of a critical component to fail due to a fail-safe system in place, e.g. a parachute system for motor failure. It is an important safety factor to be able to spot your UAV at all times, without LEDs a UAV will be difficult to spot in low-light conditions and impossible in darkness. Therefore, LEDs are an important safety feature. The ability for a UAV to monitor its own system, for obvious reasons, increases the safety of the aircraft. Otherwise, the task falls to the operator – who may not be well versed in UAV maintenance procedures. Even with special training, electronic system monitoring will always be more reliable.

The outlined square indicates the winner(s) for that section of the round.

safety

Notes for Understanding:

  • The Typhoon H PRO RS won the redundancy section over the Flydeo Y6’s parachute system, because you can still achieve reliable landing with 5 motors, whereas a parachute landing cannot be controlled remotely.

Scoreboard:

round6

ROUND 7 – LAUNCHING:

launching-title

SAR teams are likely to require a quick launch, UAVs hampering their current fast response to incidents will not be taken lightly, and it may even form barriers to UAV integration. ‘Time to Maximum Height’ takes into account the maximum ascending speed for the vehicle, with the maximum height for all UAVs being the legal restriction of 123 metres. This will indicate how quickly it can reach a sufficient height for operations. Maximum speed is a useful indicator on its ability to reach remote search areas quickly. The other columns are self-explanatory.

The outlined square indicates the winner(s) for that section of the round.

launching

Scoreboard:

round7

ROUND 8 – RECOVERY:

recovery-title

For some SAR teams, once the searching part of the mission has been successful, they then have the time critical task of transporting the casualty to definitive care within that golden hour for survival – meaning they have very little time to focus on recovering the UAV. Organising the extrication of the person is of highest priority, which also means recovery needs to be as easy and stress-free as possible in order to ensure a safe and reliable landing. Although quick recovery would be convenient, a slower landing is more controlled, more reliable and safer – which are key priorities for SAR organisations, especially as landing is likely to occur within close proximity to other team members. Therefore, a slower landing is better. ‘Time from Maximum Height’ is based on the vehicle’s maximum descending speed from the legal restricted height of 123 metres. Additionally, a focus on automating recovery tasks will adhere to the “stress-free” requirements for landing, because of this, automated recovery features and fail-safe recovery capabilities have been included.

The outlined square indicates the winner(s) for that section of the round.

recovery

Notes for Understanding:

  • Both a controlled, slowed descent and remembering obstacles en route back to landing have equal merit in creating a stress-free landing pattern; allowing this overall round to be a draw, points go to both UAVs.

Scoreboard:

round8

ROUND 9 – STORAGE:

storage-title

Equipment is also often stored in poorly heated or unheated facilities. The majority of these UAVs being analysed are powered by LiPo batteries, a LiPo battery has to be heated before use if it’s dropped to a temperature below 0oC – even mildly warmer temperatures to 0oC can see major drops in battery duration. Adding battery warming to the list of pre-launch procedures would not be ideal. Therefore, each UAV’s recommended storage temperature would be useful in preventing this – unfortunately this data was unavailable from all UAV manufacturers. Similar to transportation, storage space is also limited for a number of SAR teams; hence storage size is an important factor to consider. Robustness is another vital consideration; the UAV’s storage container may be subject to elements – especially in terms of rainwater or salt water from mixing with other kit – and potentially high levels of impact. It needs to be heavy duty and all-weather proof.

The outlined square indicates the winner(s) for that section of the round.

storage

Notes for Understanding:

  • As robustness of a storage case cannot be quantified, a qualitative measure of small, medium, and high has been used. The values have been based on its element ingress potential and resilience to impact.

Scoreboard:

round9

ROUND 10 – PROOF OF CONCEPT:

proof-of-concept-title

Is an Emergency Service already using this UAV?

The outlined square indicates the winner(s) for that section of the round.

proof-of-concept

Scoreboard:

round10

COMPETITION RESULTS:

final-scores

Congratulations Aeryon Labs on your win with the SkyRanger!

Next Section ->

<- Back to Contents Page

If you have anything to add or questions to ask or recommendations for future research blog posts, please don’t hesitate to use the comment section below. AND don’t forget to email subscribe, so you’re always up-to-date with the world of SAR UAVs!

REFERENCES:

All references are located on the Introduction page.

IMAGE SOURCES:

All image sources are located on the Introduction page.

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