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The following is a report exploring whether Unmanned Aerial Vehicles will be a better replacement for the conventional methods of search and rescue. The Unmanned Aerial vehicles, otherwise known as the UAVs, are one of the technological breakthroughs in the field of search and rescue.
The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are aircraft, controlled automatically by inbuilt computers or through remote control. Initially, they were for military work, but as time progressed, they now have a variety of uses such as search and rescue, fire fighting, and non-military security surveillance.
This report will look into the dominance of the UAVs compared with other methods of search and rescue. It will delve into different methodologies used by UAVs in search and rescue missions. The report is about different scenarios in the field of search and rescue, how the use of UAV’s will offer a different contribution to extreme weather conditions, and ambiguous geographical locations. Finally, there are limitations and problems in the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the field of search and rescue.
The UAV’s are dominant among the other conventional methods of search and rescue because of their performance and design. They have a design in a manner that they do not require a pilot to operate. Automated computers operate them through remote using gamma or infrared rays. The Unmanned aerial vehicles are designed to travel at very high speed because they are built using missile technology. They are different from the missile because missiles have a weaponry design and not meant for reuse.
However, the unmanned aerial vehicles are built in a manner that they can return to the source. They have different kinds of capability depending on their manufacturers, but they have a minimum of two kilometers range and a maximum of over two hundred kilometers range (Singer, 2010).
The hypersonic UAV’s are some of the most efficient unmanned aerial vehicles with a capability of flying over 50000 feet above sea level. They are capable of traveling at a speed of five hundred kilometers per hour and carry the weight of over ten tones. This explains their use in military operations as they can carry heavy weaponry for long distances compared to the normal aircraft (Singer, 2010).
Convectional search and rescue methods
The convectional search and rescue methods usually involve human beings. The most popular search and rescue method involves use of helicopters manned by human beings. These helicopters are hoisted with ropes of baskets, which the victim of the disaster holds on and then lifted safely. These manned aircraft cannot land in the danger zones because they are prone to attacks by the enemies, thus posing a risk to the pilots.
They are also limited in the sense that they have no use in rescuing in the dark, as they cannot pin point where the victim who needs rescue is located. To solve this, spotlights maybe mounted to enable the rescuers to see the victims. In war zones, the search and rescue helicopters have a security person at the door to counter the enemy as well as weaken the enemy defenses. The convectional search and rescue helicopters are risky to the pilots who have lost their lives during search and rescue missions (Leonard, 2009).
The convectional search and rescue helicopters travel between five kilometers and fifty kilometers at a maximum speed of three hundred kilometers per hour. They have an altitude capability of a maximum of ten thousand feet. The modern search and rescue helicopters are advanced in the sense that they have thermal sensors that enable the pilots to have a night vision.
This has helped to trace lost persons in the mountains or forests. Irrespective of these advances, the convectional search and rescue methods are still risky to the search and rescue crews. This is because there are times when the weather not favorable, other times the victims might be too weak to hold on to the hoisted ropes or the helicopter may lose direction especially in complicated geographical zones in the sea or the cloudy mountains (Leonard, 2009).
The Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles may provide a better solution to the menace of losing pilots by searching and rescuing victims of various disasters and calamities. They are based on different features, apply different methodologies of search, and rescue with minimum risk. One of the features that they can apply is that of thermal imaging. Thermal imaging refers to the process where heat is used to view objects that are invisible in the dark, especially if the objects emit heat.
Thermal imager detects people by focusing on warm objects against a colder environment. The thermal imager provides photographic images of places irrespective of the kind of weather. The search and rescue have improved with the capabilities that have enabled detection of lost individuals whether there is fog, clouds, or rain. It has also enabled night searches with digital thermal imagers that take images during the day and at night. This method of searching for lost people has been effective for rescuing people lost in Iceland, where other people would find it hard to trace them.
The Unmanned Aircraft has been very effective in detecting and in geo localizing. The UAV’s are usually automated with radar systems that enable them to navigate any area without losing direction. The latest Google earth mapping function to locate people is already incorporated in the new versions of UAVs. The geo-mapping function enables the system to detect location, thereby minimizing the risk of getting lost in the dark or when conducting a search and rescue mission (Singer, 2009).
The geo localizing function enables the UAV’s to detect the geography in which they are and how to navigate. This is enabled by its ability to sense altitudes through artificial intelligence, which enables them to detect mountains and navigate through them. The UAV’s can land in a given place automatically and then take off automatically. This explains why they are low-risk search and rescue equipment of the future (Axe, 2011).
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Scenario’s of accidents
There are different kinds of scenarios that are experienced in search and rescue operations. The first scenario is that of an accident in extreme weather conditions. A scenario of an accident during winter in a very remote place is a good example. The UAV’s would be ideal to go for the rescue mission because of their capability to detect images even in extreme weather conditions.
They can land in the scene of the accident and allow people to board easily thus allowing even individuals who are weak to board unlike the traditional helicopter that used a rope and only strong people, would manage to move from the scene of the accident. The unmanned Aircraft Vehicle can carry heavy objects. Thu,s all the people can be accommodated. Due to its high-speed capability, it can get the individuals from the scene of the accident to a place of safety where they can receive treatment within the shortest time possible.
The other scenario is when one is lost in extreme geographical conditions such as equatorial forest that has a mountainous terrain and tropical forests. When someone is lost in a thick forest, where the identifying direction is hard, and there are no roads, a helicopter will find it hard to land, as there is no space. The unmanned aircraft Vehicle is appropriate to engage in the search and rescue process because of its thermal imaging capability and the geo localizing ability
The thermal imaging capability using the infrared would enable the individual’s identification against a cold background in a location where there are a few numbers of human beings living there. The major challenge would be navigating through the mountains and landing in a forest area.
The Unmanned vehicles geo localizing ability would enable it to navigate at a low speed through the mountains. Due to its weight, the craft can crash the tree and land in the mountain slowly alerting the lost individual of its presence. Since it has artificial intelligence, it is capable of taking off in the right direction once the person gets in (Wagner, 2002).
Limitations of UAV’s
Irrespective of the high technological capabilities of the UAV’s they are still limited in several ways. The first is that most of the existing UAV’s have programs for military purposes and not for search and rescue missions. Such UAV’s may not be fully effective in search and rescue missions. The other challenge in the UAV’S is that of satellite connections. The satellites are mainly used for monitoring the UAVs. If the satellites have a problem, the UAV’s may malfunction or lose direction, which is dangerous, especially in search, and rescue missions (BWRSI, 2009).
The next challenge is that of visualizing where the thermal images are not very clear, especially when the earth is warm, and the objects of focus are warm, thus providing images, which are ambiguous. The thermal imagers are critical components, and if they malfunction, the search and rescue mission cannot be successful. Mechanical problems also develop which make the UAVs to malfunction. Dust and water fuels cause mechanical problems where water from heavy rain and storms affect the propulsion systems by slowing its speed and at times affecting the electrical system of the equipment (BWRSI, 2009).
The UAV’s are the future of search and rescue missions in dangerous zones that are risky for human beings. This is because they are very effective due to the technologies involved in making them. Nations allow the use of UAV’s in search and rescue operations as they save many lives that would have been lost.
The manufactures and programmers of UAV’s need to come up with UAV’s programmed for search and rescue. This would make them even better because the existing UAV’s are designed for military purposes. It is certain that UAV’s will have a great contribution to the field of search, rescue more than the convectional search, and rescue helicopters.
Axe, D. (2011). US drones trump china theatrics. The Diplomat, 7 February 2011.
Bushwalkers Wilderness Rescue Squad Inc (2009). A remote area search & rescue service for NSW. London: Bushwalkers Press.
Leonard, R. (2009). Black hawk: The story of a world-class helicopter. Massachusetts: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Singer, P. (2009). A revolution once more: Unmanned systems and the Middle East. New York: The Brookings Institution.
Singer, P. (2010). How the US military can win the robotic revolution. The Brookings Institution.
Wagner, W. (2002). Lightning bugs and other reconnaissance drones: The can-do story of Ryan’s unmanned spy planes. Washington: Armed Forces Journal International.