Drones do tend to get a lot of bad press. Tabloid headlines have often focused on 'killer drones' and stories of rogue aircraft being controlled by hackers and that sort of thing. It's all quite hostile. However, looking on the bright side, there are some seriously positive examples of drone technology out there being used to save lives every day. For instance, recent reports show that hundreds of people trapped by floods in India in 2015 were aided by the use of drones. Other examples can credit drones with locating and rescuing people trapped in avalanches, mountains, forests, and at sea. With that in mind, here are three notable organisations who use drones to save lives.
Remember to check out the time we made our own Emergency Services Drone.
Avalanche Drones that Drop Explosives
Drones dropping bombs to cause avalanches near ski resorts doesn't sound like the best idea in the world. However, this Colorado startup, Mountain Drones, specialise in building and operating aircraft that perform avalanche mitigation work. This is to keep people safe by removing snow in a controlled manner before it unexpectedly comes hurtling down a mountain.
Mountain Drones use multirotors that have been adapted to suit the mountainous conditions of thin air and low temperatures. Traditionally, ski resorts task people with the responsibility of physically setting up explosive charges on mountainsides to blast away loose snow. This company removes the human risk out of the equation meaning that it's a lot safer to mitigate potentially catastrophic avalanches.
These drones not only to protect ski resorts, they help keep roads, railways and towns safe. The company also uses their mountain going aircraft to create maps and carry out research projects for clients! Good stuff.
Medical Drones in Rwanda
Zipline is a life-saving drone delivery service in Rwanda.
The organisation use fixed-wing drones (or just autonomously controlled airplanes if you want to call them that) to deliver aid to patients in hospitals around Rwanda. First, a text message is sent from a doctor or nurse to Zipline HQ requesting specific medical resources that are needed immediately. As an example, this could be a specific blood type for a blood transfusion. A package is wrapped up and bundled into an aircraft. Then, the airplane launches and travels to the target at around 65mph. This is far faster than any other form of local transport. Next, the parcel is dropped and recovered by the hospital staff.
After that, the drone returns home and is made ready to fly again. It's a fantastic service and use of this new technology that is now available to save lives every single day. Since Zipline started in Rwanda, other nations like Tanzania are now creating their own drone aid services. Some of these are partnered with Zipline.
As recently as in January 2018, lifeguard organisations near Sydney, Australia have started to use drones to rescue people in peril at sea. Quite incredibly, just a few hours after the technology was declared in active service as part of a trial, a drone was scrambled to save the lives of two teenagers who had been swept out to sea. There was swell of around 10ft high making other forms of rescue difficult. A riptide was responsible for pulling the boys out from the safety of the shore. Thankfully, the drone could avoid this choppy water altogether by flying over it at 31mph.
The drone dropped a floatation pod after spotting the teenagers about half-a-mile out to sea. It reached the target in under a minute whereas a jet-ski would have taken around six minutes. Where seconds count, this is pretty significant.
As mentioned, currently these aircraft are on trial. However, the advantages to other vehicles used in these sorts of operations are quickly becoming obvious: drones can see things that a jet-ski simply cannot in difficult conditions. They have also been employed to spot sharks, another important task for Australian lifeguards. Here's a video of the rescue of the two teenagers trapped by the riptide.
Clearly, drones are a tool. They're like anything else; really, you can use them for whatever purpose you want. Happily, though, it seems that drones are finding ground in humanitarian and rescue work. They're proving themselves as valuable pieces of kit for all sorts of life-saving work, as is evident through these three examples. This can only be good news. Hopefully, in the years to come, we will see an expansion in this field and look back on the days when drones were marred with some scepticism only for it to slowly wain away.
"It is essential to have good tools, but it is also essential that the tools should be used in the right way." - Wallace D. Wattles
Life Guard Drone Article
Mountain Drones Website
Article by James Whomsley