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Drone-supported Search Technique for Mountain Rescue

Hello there Tomas Gustafsson, project manager and senior consultant at ÅF Digital Solutions. The Swedish Innovation Agency, Vinnova, is currently awarding SEK 30 million to 23 different innovation projects that will study how drones can be used for socially-beneficial tasks. Can you tell us a little about the project

Together with the police and mountain rescue services, we will be developing a drone that is capable of searching for people buried beneath the snow in avalanches. This is done by locating a transceiver – a small transmitter that most off-piste skiers carry with them – using a special receiver attached to a drone. The drone is intended for use by search and rescue personnel and will quickly provide them with coordinates for where they should begin their search.

What is ÅF's role in the project?

ÅF will lead the project and, together with our partner Integrated UAV, we will be responsible for developing all of the necessary hardware. This includes both the radio system and the drone platform itself. By also integrating user requirements, in this case those of the police and mountain rescue services, we will direct and set demands for development work based on their experiences and needs.

And in your opinion, will we see drone support for mountain rescue in the future?

I believe that this may very well be a method and technology that will be utilised by mountain rescue services in the future. Avalanche rescue in particular is a major concern in the rest of Europe and globally, with hundreds of deaths each year. Sweden does not suffer to the same extent, as avalanche accidents are relatively rare here. We may see the technology applied both in mountain rescue and at ski resorts, where a drone can be on standby for automatic call out. Above all, it will be possible to integrate other sensors on mountain rescue drones, and we are now taking the first steps to demonstrating how this can be achieved.

I also believe that in future, just as skiers currently purchase an avalanche transceiver, an individual skier will one day be able to buy their own portable avalanche drone to carry with them. In the same way as the drone we are currently developing, these will be ready for immediate use by a fellow skier if you are buried by an avalanche.

Tomas’ three predictions for the future of drones

1. Emergency and rescue services

The use of drone-support technology by emergency and rescue services will become increasingly common. In this particular call from Vinnova, civil protection was the field that received the most grants. Here, we will see [the technology] used in applications ranging from emergency response and inquiries in the field, to major coordinated drone solutions controlled from a command centre.

2. Logistics

Logistics and mobility will develop and become safer in parallel with changes to regulatory frameworks and improvements to drone technology. Generally speaking, I believe that in future the market will focus on different types of sensors and payloads.

3. Saturated media market

Currently, much of the discussion is focused on the use of drones for cameras and filming for various media productions; however, this market is now somewhat saturated. Drones open the way for much greater innovation.