New Drone Technology May Soon Be Available for 24-7 Search-and-Rescue
Drone-mounted thermal imaging cameras are a boon to law enforcement agencies in their search for lost and missing persons. Once airborne, police drones can often identify lost or missing persons in a matter of minutes by their heat signature alone. But the technology’s not fool-proof: it’s most effective in the cold and at night when the drone camera’s image resolution is sharpest. For daylight rescues in warm weather, police still rely on helicopters, foot patrols and canine rescue squads – and their rescues are prolonged and not always successful.
New York-based Flyhound Corporation claims to have found an all-weather solution for SAR missions in daylight and darkness. The patented technology, developed by NEC Laboratories Europe, draws upon cutting-edge localization algorithms to track the cellular signals emitted from the mobile devices of lost hikers or victims of natural disasters. While the new technology does require missing persons to have a cell phone or another digital device in their possession, it doesn’t require an active cellular network signal and can even be deployed when cellular network infrastructure is not available or has been disabled.
How does the new technology work? Through sophisticated digital mapping, officials say. The drone mounted camera identifies cell phone devices and displays their position on a digital map in a designated search area within a 50-meter radius. No human imaging is required, but the technology is able to distinguish the distinctive digital signature of a cell phone from other objects and devices. Flyhound claims first responders are able to determine the location of missing people “100 times faster” than current search and rescue methods.
Flyhound has completed several proofs of concept with public safety agencies to validate the concept and its utility to first-responders. One recent user, Corey Hoefling, a firefighter at New Jersey’s Carlstadt Fire Department, applauded the technology: “It’s incredibly valuable from a rescue standpoint to be able to map out where cellphones are in an emergency. Cellphones are something people always carry with them, so if we need to find someone in an emergency, this is a tool that can get us to them faster, and ultimately help save lives.”
Flyhound officials say first responders can also use their new SAR technology to identify rubble caused by earthquakes, floodwaters, or extreme snowfall, which can enhance identification of lost and missing persons during climate emergencies and other natural disasters.
Currently, most leading drone models – including DJI Phantom, DJI Matrice, Phy Sci Instant Eye, and Yuneec Typhoon – can integrate Flyhound’s new SAR technology. But others, including Skydio, BRINC, and Parrot models, cannot. The company hopes to rectify this problem later this year.
First responders already enjoy enormous success with heat-sensing drones. The number of lost and missing persons successfully rescued by drone worldwide has steadily mounted in recent years – over 600 in 2022 alone. With full-scale commercialization of Flyhound’s new drone-mounted SAR technology, these numbers will continue to rise.