Commercial Drone Professional spoke to a variety of specialists about the expansion of the use case, both in urbanised areas as well as in locations with limited access.
As leaders within the commercial drone sector continue to unlock new potential, emergency responder have been quick off the mark to capitalise on the momentum and make life-saving missions.
As drones begin to play a more prominent role in emergency response, their benefits become increasingly apparent. Earlier this month it was revealed that four people walked away from near-death experiences on the same day due to the use of public safety drones.
Drones were deployed to aid the rescue of four people in three separate incidents on two continents on a single day, taking the total number of people rescued from peril by drones around the world to at least 133.
While the technology is already available, one of the key challenges in adopting drone technology in life-saving situations is developing the infrastructure.
Project such as Nesta’s Flying High Challenge and the FAA’s and Department of Transport’s pilot programme in America, are currently working towards introducing drone-based strategies within cities.
Nesta’s programme, which is supported by a series of shareholders, including Consortiq and TfL, is exploring different use cases across five cities and regions within the UK. TfL’s foresight manager in the Transport Innovation Directorate Gareth Sumner, tells Commercial Drone Professional: “The drone industry has expanded significantly in recent years and London’s public sector has already trialled using drones in various situations. This includes inspecting the construction of the Elizabeth Line and tactical operations by the Met Police.
“The capital has the busiest and most heavily regulated airspace in the UK, and the Nesta challenge will allow the city to have serious conversations about if, how and where drones could safely be used in future for the benefit of the city. If they can be safely and sensibly integrated in London, they can be integrated anywhere.
“As part of Nesta challenge we will be exploring the feasibility and appropriateness of a wide range of use cases including asset inspection, support to the emergency services and delivery of critical medical items.”
As well as creating the necessary infrastructures that create the broad strokes for end users to adopt as guidelines, drones cannot be installed with a one size fits all approach.
Due to the size or an organisation, as well as its funding and location, companies will be limited in different way when they begin integrating the technology.
In the case of Norfolk Constabulary, which made national headlines this week for its life-saving application of a DJI Inspire 1, the first port of call was acquiring a drone to get operations off the ground.
Sergeant Danny Leach, who piloted the UAV responsible to finding a missing 75-year-old man buried in mud and reeds over the weekend, tells Commercial Drone Professional that while the DJI Inspire 1 was a strong choice for the force when adopting the technology into its day-to-day work, a more advanced drone could be needed when the technology takes off.
He says: “The reason we used the Inspire 1 is because it is the most cost-effective, other forces have used it as an entry level drone, we saw it as a drone that probably won’t fit all of our needs and we are progressing to something like a 210 but it was a good level entry drone that would probably do 70% of what we need.
“DJI has proved themselves capable for what we’re looking at this level, I’m not saying we’ll stick with DJI when we go to more robust capable drones, we will obviously look elsewhere but at this stage that’s what we have got because it fits the beginning stages of our project.”
No stranger to the industry, DJI has spotted the ever-growing appetite of emergency responders for UAV solutions, designed for different scenarios. Keen not to miss out on such a lucrative market, DJI has laid out a roadmap for bolstering life-saving drones within its business.
Earlier this year, the European Emergency Number Association (EENA), a Brussels-based public safety NGO, and DJI, announced they are extending their research partnership to further integrate drones into rescue operations.
A spokesperson for DJI said: “Police, fire and rescue services, as well as bystanders in the right place at the right time, have used drones to find missing people and deliver supplies to people stranded in water, forests, ditches, mountains and fields.
“Drones can cover far more area than searchers on land or water, and can use thermal imaging cameras to peer through smoke, fog, darkness or vegetation to find unconscious people. Drones also allow public safety agencies to reduce the risk of injury to rescuers, who might otherwise place themselves in peril on search and rescue missions.”
Sgt Leach told Commercial Drone Professional that the success of the mission underscored the importance of drone technology in emergency operations and outlined his hopes that future investments will mean drones will be able to reach remote locations in incredibly quick times.
He said: “I would like to see that there is the capability to be able to get a drone to any incident in a big county like this within 20 minutes. That would be a case of a dedicated unit, that would be ideal as they would have the experience that could be deployed anywhere 24/7, but most likely it would be that we have hubs across the county where you’ll have a drone in a central location and you’ll have a number of trained pilots.”
While it is not known exactly how much the emergency market is worth in the UK or globally, earlier this year PwC carried out a report last year that found drones have the potential to disrupt a variety of industries, estimating the market for current business services and labour that could be done by drones at over $127bn (£94bn) globally. Industries with the best prospects for drone applications, such as infrastructure, agriculture and transport, will be focus areas for the new team.
The report also estimated that the labour market boasts a potential value of £94 billion, meaning that the value of emergency applications is likely to fall below this.