An interesting trial that combines aerial drone technology and crowd sourcing as Mountain Rescue tools will take place later this month in the Lake District. If this virtual rescue technique gets off the ground it may have great potential.
The drone - AeroSee - has been developed by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), and will be tested by Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team. The really novel bit is that members of the public are being invited to join in the trial remotely. Anyone with a computer, tablet or mobile phone can assist the search and rescue exercise in real time.
This pioneering project is the work of staff at UCLan's Aerospace Centre and Media Innovation Studio.
AeroSee launches on Thursday 25 July at 12:30pm from the Sports Field in Glenridding (opposite Ogilvie House, the Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team's Rescue Centre), on a 20-minute flight covering 10square kilometres in search of a 'missing' hiker – planted by the research team. Images from AeroSee will be relayed to anyone logged onto the AeroSee web application. As images are streamed to people's computers, tablets and mobiles they will be able to tap or click on any area of the image (creating a 'tag') where they think they may have spotted an injured person on the mountainside.
The 'crowd sourced' intelligence - which includes visual references and GPS location data - will be relayed to the Team members back at Base who are able to assess the image, and send the AeroSee back to take a closer look if they believe 'crowd' participants have identified a person in trouble on the hills. This data provided by members of the public will help rescuers target their resources more effectively, say UCLan, saving searching time and enabling them to head straight to the injured climber.
Darren Ansell, Space and Aerospace Engineering Lead at UCLan said:
'The cost of this technology has come down and down in recent years which makes operations like this one economically viable. We also know how quickly AeroSee can cover a geographic area that might take a team a number of hours to search – speeding up the rescue operation can be critical particularly when injuries are severe or the weather conditions are poor. If it can improve the focus on key areas, AeroSee also has the potential to reduce the risks for volunteer rescuers in dangerous conditions.'
Paul Egglestone, Director of the university's Media Innovation Studio added:
'Drones get lots of bad press as they're usually associated with civilian causalities in military theatres. They're just a tool and we're using AeroSee for peaceful purposes. And the unique thing about our approach is that we're inviting civic minded people to give up 20 minutes of their time to help save a life on the mountainside. It turns the whole drone debate on its head and encourages people to participate wherever they are using digital technology to do it.'
Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team is reportedly interested to find out how AeroSee works, and assess whether the Team really could build a community of 'virtual search agents' prepared to assist them at a moment's notice when they are called out to a rescue.
Team Leader Mike Blakey explained:
'Mountain rescue is changing as new technology is available, from GPS and mobile phones for people visiting the hills to the SARCALL system that enables us to work more effectively with other emergency services. Drones may be really useful in some scenarios and the idea of getting people to help with the rescue operation wherever they are in the world is a really interesting idea that taps into all the social media ways that people are using digital technology today. Doing it like this ensures it is done safely and sensibly and it'll be fascinating to see how Thursday's trial and demonstration works out. We're hoping for good weather on the day. The real test would be our usual conditions - out at night or in atrocious weather searching for missing people.'
AeroSee will be using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), equipped with a number of TV and infra-red sensors, which are remotely piloted by a ground pilot to search a geographic area. Imagery gathered during the search is transmitted in real time to a ground terminal, which uploads to a UCLan web server. The site is accessible from any device with a web connection and browser. Due to the large number of images gathered (up to 100 per minute), it is not practical for a single human to review them efficiently, but the boffins reckon that inviting public participation through crowd sourcing could be the answer.
Anyone interested in joining the AeroSee search and rescue community needs to create a user account online - see instructions here.
Before the operation goes live participants will receive a text message inviting them to log onto the AeroSee site, where they can participate in a live trial, tagging images wherever they see anything that looks like a person in distress.