Microdrones in emergency response

Microdrones in emergency response

August 28, 2012

On Monday August 27, the Minister of Education and Research took a closer look at Norut’s planes. “This offers very many exciting opportunities,” summed up Kristin Halvorsen.

First on her visit to Tromsø, the Minister had the opportunity to encounter Norut’s largest unmanned aircraft (UA). The kind drone has a wingspan of 5.2 metres, a payload and fuel capacity of up to 30 kilos and a range equivalent to a return trip from Tromsø to Svalbard.

This type of aircraft is used in particular to gather research data from glaciers and sea ice and to test out radar equipment with a view to later mounting similar instruments on satellites. Senior Scientist Rune Storvold briefed the Minister of Education and Research about how it is envisaged that the aircraft can be used for surveillance work involving, for instance, oil spills or drift ice.

Halvorsen was interested in the specific uses of the technology: “Is there anything that this aircraft cannot do that a manned aircraft can?”

Storvold pointed out the limitations of the 30 kg payload and the fact that the fuselage has a shorter lifespan than a manned aircraft. But the costs involved are also totally different. The aircraft including payload costs less than NOK 500,000 and can fly for up to an hour on just one litre of fuel.

The main expense concerns the development of advanced software for advanced signal processing and data analysis adapted for use for environmental research, emergency response work and commercial activities alike.

Microdrones

Norut’s latest focus is to develop models for the use of microdrones for emergency response work.

Micro airplanes and helicopter drones are cheaper and far easier to operate than the larger UA, and offer an increased level of safety for those involved in an operation. The drones can be particularly useful for civil search and rescue operations and mapping work.

Equipped with a thermal imaging camera, they can for example lead the way in search and rescue operations on land or at sea when every minute counts. A microdrone with payload can be produced at an affordable price, and may be operated by ordinary personnel on board a boat or platform.

Kristin Halvorsen scrutinized an electric drone made of polystyrene and was in the innovative corner. “How about incorporating a life buoy as part of the fuselage,” joked the Minister.

Flight data in 3D

ICT Research Scientist Daniel Stødle showed the guests from the Ministry of Education and Research how data from the aircraft may be visualized on the ground. A 3D model of the earth is connected with various types of base data, including maps and terrain models.

The system has been developed from scratch by Norut over the past year, and can visualize any type of georeferenced data, everything from 3D models of buildings, photos and aircraft and boat traffic to spectrometer data and laser measurements.

“As long as we have access to data, we can rapidly visualize it using our system,” says Stødle.

The solution makes it possible to both visualize in real time while the aircraft is still in the air and in more detail once it has landed.

“How much of the aircraft’s activity we can visualize on the ground in real time depends to a large extent on which bandwidth we have from the aircraft,” says Stødle. “We’re working on solutions in order to be able to visualize more bandwidth-intensive data while the aircraft is in the air.”

Important discussion about emergency response

The guests from the Ministry of Education and Research saw that UAs have a major potential in an emergency response capacity.

This is how the Minister of Education and Research, Kristin Halvorsen, summed up her visit to Norut Tromsø:

“This offers very many exciting opportunities, also with respect to emergency response. We’re going to have a major discussion about emergency response. It’s important not only to think based on situations and technology we have had up until now.”

After her visit, the Minister of Education and Research concluded on her Facebook page: “Environmental surveillance and emergency response in the future will occur using these small unmanned aircraft.”