Date
21 February 2020
Drones are being increasingly used in search and rescue operations. Photo: HKEJ
Drones are being increasingly used in search and rescue operations. Photo: HKEJ

How drones are playing a bigger role in our lives

By now, unmanned aircraft vehicles – or drones, as they are more popularly called – have become a common sight in the skies, used for various purposes from taking aerial videos for Instagram posts to taking out combatants in remote battlefields.

Drones, since they don’t need pilots to be flown and maneuvered, have countless practical uses such as monitoring places and situations that would be difficult or dangerous to do if we were to be there physically. 

Several logistics companies, such as e-commerce giant Amazon, plan to use drones for deliveries.

Drones are essentially used to take snapshots or videos of places and events from above, which could be viewed in real time from the ground by those operating the system.

As such, they are also useful for search and rescue operations.

Shenzhen-based DaJiang Innovation (also known as SZ DJI Technology Co. Ltd. or simply DJI) is a leading maker of drones. It recently issued a report listing numerous cases in which drones were deployed to rescue people.

In some of these cases, which happened between May 2017 and April 2018, people were at risk of injury or even death, such as being stranded in a body of water or exposed in hazardous weather.

In other cases, people were found or assisted by drones in circumstances that were not imminently life-threatening but presented great risks to health and safety.

In one case, 24 tourists got lost in a mountain and had no food and water as night fell. Rescuers used a drone to locate them after three hours of searching and eventually were able to bring them back to safety.

The superb “vision” of drones is one of the features that make them so useful. For example, drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras can find a target hidden from view by darkness or obstacles.

In North Carolina, a missing 11-year-old girl had fallen asleep in a thicket as darkness spread across the land.

“It was so dark in the woods that even with flashlights, deputies walked right past the child and had to be directed back to her by the drone pilot,” local media reported.

In Minnesota, a police officer was able to locate an unresponsive 84-year-old man trapped in marshland at night by using a drone equipped with a thermal imaging camera. Bad weather had prevented a state police helicopter from flying over the area.

In the United Kingdom, a police drone unit saved the life of a driver who had wandered from his crashed car into a ditch at night in sub-freezing temperatures.

The widespread adoption of drones with thermal imaging cameras has allowed small public safety units to adopt a lifesaving technology once available only to agencies that operate helicopters.

Without such technology, a search would have taken more hours and resources.

Drones are very practical and convenient to use dangerous situations.

For example, police agencies have used drones to remotely monitor confrontations with armed individuals, without having to risk their own lives.

In Zhuhai, police have come up with a different application for drones – monitoring road traffic conditions from high altitude. Through snap photography, vehicles involved in traffic violations are caught.

In Hong Kong, drone startup BlackSheep used a self-made drone with first-person view (FPV) to record the massive protest against the now-suspended extradition bill on June 12.

The drone flew over the demonstration site and recorded the clashes between police officers and rallyists, with the police using pepper spray, tear gas and beanbag rounds against the young protesters.

WL/RT/CG

EJI contributor