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Swiss air rescue company Rega has introduced a drone that can scan large areas and locate missing people autonomously. The Rega drone is equipped with multiple sensors that allow it to locate people from the air, including infrared and daylight cameras.
With the appearance of a mini helicopter, the Rega drone features three rotor blades with a rotor diameter of just over two meters (6.5 feet). It is able to fly at an altitude of 80 to 100 meters (260 to 330 feet) and uses satellite navigation. The Rega drone also features an anti-collision system, allowing it to autonomously detect and avoid obstacles, including other aircraft or power lines. In case of emergency, the drone is equipped with a parachute.
The Rega drone’s self-learning algorithm presumes it has found a missing person based on the pixel pattern of the images it detects, and the drone then relays the information to the ground operator, the company said in a press release. There are also plans for the Rega drone to use a phone tracking function to locate a mobile phone on a missing person in a remote region from a distance of several hundred meters.
The company says the Rega drone is not deployed over airports, airfields or densely population areas.
While the Rega drone is able to fly in poor weather conditions that a helicopter may not be able to fly in, the company says it will be used as a “supplementary aid” for rescues. This means that if the Rega drone locates a missing person, the Rega helicopter or another form of rescue will still be needed to retrieve the person.
The Rega drone, though autonomous, will still require a trained drone crew, including an operator and a pilot, to coordinate with search crews during rescues.
The company has been working on the Rega drone for the last 18 months, and says the drone will require further comprehensive test flights before the system can be used in search operations. The prototype is currently being tested in collaboration with police. Rega is hoping to deploy the drone on search missions in 2020.