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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

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Search and rescue drone trial in Cumbria hailed success

A pioneering search and rescue drone trial aimed at saving lives on Cumbrian fells has been hailed an “unqualified success”.

Rescue drone photo
Rescue team members with drone experts

Experts from the University of Central Lancashire teamed up with the Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team to test the unmanned remote control drone.

It is hoped the project will help save lives in the Lake District by encouraging ‘virtual’ search and rescue assistants to tap into the drone’s live feed online.

On the mission’s launch day 350 people from 25 countries joined live search and rescue trials from a sports field in Glenridding at Ullswater using their desktop PCs, tablets and mobile phones.

The system involves beaming images to anyone logged onto the AeroSee web application who are able to tap or click on any area of the image where they think they have spotted someone injured on the mountainside.

The intelligence, which includes references and GPS location data, is then relayed to the team at base, who assess the images before sending the drone back for a closer look if they believe someone is in danger.

In total, 100 images were tagged per minute and 3,500 images were tagged within the first hour of the experiment.

Paul Egglestone, director of the Media Innovation Studio which is also behind the project, said: “Every year Patterdale Mountain Rescue assists hundreds of injured and missing persons from around the Ullswater area.

“The average search takes several hours and can require a large team of volunteers to set out in often poor weather conditions.

“Our experiment was to see how the use of UAV, or ‘drone’, technology, together with ‘crowd-sourced’ help, could reduce the time taken to locate and rescue a person in distress.

“We received a great response from the general public with online search volunteers taking part from countries all over the world.

“Our website received over 211,000 hits, correctly identifying the walkers with a dog and a missing person within just five minutes.

“The research has clearly demonstrated how powerful this technology can be.”

Mike Blakey, Patterdale team leader, said: “Drones may turn out to be a useful addition to our toolbox in some search situations and the idea of getting people to help with the operation online from wherever they are in the world is an interesting one.

“The media interest in the whole project has been great for the team, the technology was fascinating to watch and who knows how it might work with us and for us in future.”

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