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Emergency response drones to save lives in digital skies

Emergency response drones to save lives in digital skies

tech innovation 2022

SAFIR-made uncrewed aircraft in the sky over the headquarters of the Port of Antwerp-Bruges. Credits: © Helicus – Geert Vandenhove, Rick van Boxum, 2022

Unmanned aircraft responding to fire and medical emergencies will be used to save lives – if digitized air-traffic controls can help them navigate the skies of Europe safely.

A skyscraper in a futuristic city catches on fire. An alarm is triggered and a swarm of drones surround the building and use antennas to locate people inside, allowing firefighters to go directly to victims. Just in time—no deaths have been recorded.

Elsewhere in the city, drones transport tissue samples from hospitals back and forth to specialist laboratories for analysis, while another carries a defibrillator to someone who may have suffered a suspected cardiac arrest on a football pitch. The patient survives, the minutes saved prove to be grim.

At the time of writing, drones have been used in search and rescue situations to rescue more than 880 people worldwide, Drone company DJI . According to, Drones are also being used for medical purposes, such as to transport medicines and samples, and to carry vaccines to remote areas.

Drones for such uses are still a relatively new development, which means there is plenty of room to make them more effective and improve supporting infrastructure. This is especially true when it comes to urban environments, where navigation is complex and requires safety regulations.

flying firefighters

ideal drone The project developed a system to assist in firefighting and other emergencies to demonstrate the ability to use a swarm of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in such situations. Equipped with antennas, the drones use a radio-frequency system to detect the location of “nodes” – or tags – worn by people inside a building.

Using an Italian aircraft hangar, the tests involved pilots on the ground flying three drones outside a building. The idea is that the drones triangulate the positions of people where their signals intersect, while simultaneously detecting information about their health status. The details can then be mapped to optimize and expedite rescue operations, and to increase safety for firefighters by allowing them to avoid searching a burning building without knowing where people are. May go.

“You create a kind of temporary network from the outside of the building through which you can trace the people inside,” said Professor Gian Paolo Simellaro, an engineer at the Polytechnic University of Turin and project lead at IDEAL DRONE.

“By knowing how many people are inside the building and where they are located, it will optimize search and rescue operations.”

He added: “A unique feature of this project is that it allows indoor tracking without communication networks such as Wi-Fi or GPS, which may not be available in an emergency such as a disaster or post-earthquake situation. ”

There are some challenges in terms of accuracy and battery life, while another obvious drawback is the need for people in the building to already wear the trackers.

However, Prof. The current thinking, said Simellaro, is that it could go unchecked if tags are incorporated into existing technology that people often already carry with smartwatches, mobile phones or ID cards. They can also be used by organizations that mandate their use for employees working in hazardous environments, such as factories or offshore oil rigs.

Looking beyond the challenges, Prof. Simelaro thinks such systems could be a reality within five years, with drones promising a significant future for avoiding “endangering human lives.”

medical network

Another area in which drones can be used to save lives is in medical emergencies. it is the focus of SAFIR-MED Project.

Belgian medical drone operator Helicus has set up a command-and-control (C2C) center in Antwerp to coordinate drone flights. The idea is that C2C automatically creates flight plans using artificial intelligence, navigating within a digital twin or virtual representation of the real world. These plans are then relayed to the respective air traffic authorities for flight authorization.

“We integrate drone cargo ports on the roofs of hospitals as closely as possible with the hospital’s logistics systems so that transportation can be on demand,” said Geert Vandenhove, Manager of Flight Operations at Helicus.

So far, SAFIR-Med has successfully carried out remote virtual demonstrations, simulations, C2C controlled flights at test sites, and other tests such as “detection and avoidance” systems to help drones take aggressive action when other people are around. can get help. flying around.

The next step will be to validate the concepts in real-life demonstrations in several countries, including Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. The trials envisage scenarios including the transfer of medical equipment and tissue samples between hospitals and laboratories, the delivery of a defibrillator to treat a heart patient outside a hospital, and the transport of a physician to an emergency site by passenger drone .

Additional simulations in Greece and the Czech Republic will show the potential for such systems to be expanded throughout Europe.

SAFIR-Med is part of a wider initiative known as u-space, It is co-funded by the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) joint venture, a public-private effort for safe drone operations. digital european sky,

rules out

Most of the technology for such use of drones already exists, VanHandenhow says. However, he highlighted that drone flights in cities involve regulatory challenges, particularly as large models fly beyond the line of sight (BVLOS). This includes authorizations for demonstrations within SAFIR-Med itself.

“The fact that this is being done for the first time is posing significant obstacles,” he said. “It will depend on the given authorizations as to which scenarios can be executed.”

But the rules are set to open up over time, with European Commission rules due to come into force next January facilitating a framework for the use of BVLOS UAVs in low-level airspace.

Vandenhove emphasized that the development of a more robust drone infrastructure will be a gradual process of learning and improvement. Eventually, he hopes that through well-coordinated systems with authorities, emergency flights in future smart cities can be mobilized in seconds. “For us, it is very important that we can get authorization in sub-minute time,” he said.

He believes commercial flights could even begin within a few years, although it may not be until 2025 that a widely integrated, robust unmanned medical system comes into play in cities. “It’s also about creating the logistics to deliver medical treatment faster and more efficient, and about taking out as many of the barriers and limitations as possible that we have,” Vandenhove said.


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Provided by Horizon: European Union Research and Innovation Magazine

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