By:
Adam McCully

The word “drone” has become something of a fear inducing term for the uninformed, and with good reason. The majority of drone-related news stories shed a negative light on what in all actuality is a relatively new phenomenon. It’s either “drone spying on people”, or “drone in a restricted airspace”, or “drone killed dozens in bombing run”. Who wouldn’t be scared? Part of this problem lies with the journalists. Fear inducing media is a major seller. The public is afraid of what they don’t understand, and they want to be informed of what they’re afraid of – which in theory should make it less scary, right? A solution to this problem could be creating positive drone related news, but that’s not an easy sell. A miniature flying robot with a camera. What good could possibly come from such a thing?

How about search and rescue?

It’s not exactly a brand new concept. The U.S. Coast Guard started experimenting with pigeons as a search and rescue tool back in the 70’s. Nothing against pigeons, but drones are a little easier to control, and they very rarely poop on someone’s head. Drones can cover a large area in a short amount of time. They’re efficient, environmentally friendly, and can even deliver a small payload. If you think about it, they’re kind of perfect for search and rescue. Military drones have always been used primarily for reconnaissance, and while recreational drones are used primarily for well… recreation, they have all the capabilities to survey a large area much faster than a ground team.

We’ve all seen a movie or a news report where a whole community joins together in an effort to locate a missing person. It’s not necessarily something you’d want to get excited about but it’s hard not to when you imagine a whole army of drones taking flight and scanning an area in a matter of hours that would normally take days or weeks. Jim Bowers (aka Demon Seed on YouTube) thought the exact same thing when he founded S.W.A.R.M or “Search With Aerial RC Multi-rotor”, and he’s not the only one. What started out as a few drone enthusiasts trying to do some good has networked into a worldwide organization with over 1,100 volunteers. Their mission is to “Provide multi-rotor (drone) and fixed wing aerial search platforms for ongoing Search and Rescue operations at no cost to the SAR organization or to the family. In addition, we want to create increased awareness about the benefits of RC drone technologies.” Bowers is quick to mention that they never impede the work of the professionals, but rather offer a level of support not available to many law enforcement or fire and rescue teams around the world.

Anyone can join S.W.A.R.M provided they have the proper equipment and credentials. If you’re interested head to their homepage here, or their Facebook page here.

Of course, drones are delicate, and expensive, and dangerous, and expensive. A dense forest or the crumbling shell of a building are not ideal fly zones, and finding a stranded survivor only to slash them with a spinning rotor blade or fall out of the sky and knock them unconscious would be somewhat counterproductive.

Enter the Gimball. Created by Flyability, the Gimball is the first drone of its kind. Specifically designed for search and rescue missions, this drone comes complete with its own deflector shield! It might not be as high-tech as the one on the Millennium Falcon, but it’s a step in the right direction. The Gimball’s two-rotor motor is housed within a carbon fiber outer frame, which itself is housed in a soft, flexible geodesic sphere. It looks a little like the expanding model of the atom your seventh grade science teacher had, only way more expensive and much more useful. According to Flyabilitiy’s co-founder, Adrien Briod, “The goal of this flying robot is to reproduce the amazing capabilities of insects – especially the fact that they can collide into things and continue flying afterwards.”

Not only does the Gimball not have a problem with walls and ceilings, it actually uses them as a form of navigation. Give the Gimball a GPS destination and it’ll bounce its way from room to room looking for openings and entryways.

Compared to other drones, the Gimball is relatively inexpensive, making it ideal for mass production. The ultimate goal is to make the Gimball standard equipment for military, law enforcement, and fire and rescue squads around the world. It’s still a long way from that stage in it’s development, but with additional funding Flyability hopes to add an IR camera and a simpler UI.

Hopefully this is the start of a growing trend. Like all new technology (okay, drones aren’t new but to the non-enthusiast they are… kind of) there is always the potential for misuse. However, in the right hands drones can be more than just an enjoyable hobby, they can be a valuable tool. Thousands of people around the world have already realized that and they’re using drones for film, photography, delivery, even building inspection. Drones have changed the way these industries function. Imagine if drones provided closure to a grieving family (they already have) or saved a life. It would be a lot harder to take an anti-drone stance at that point, wouldn’t it?

Sources:
Popular Mechanics Tech World Flyability S.W.A.R.M Susan Scott