Swiss Air rescue service Rega has developed a drone that can scan large areas autonomously with onboard sensors and cameras. The pixel patterns from camera images are categorized aboard the drone in real time to determine if a person has been located and then the drone automatically relays this information to its operator. Eventually the drone will also have the capability to track cell phone signals.
The aircraft is currently undergoing flight testing and could be operational by next year.
Rega developed the drone, which looks like a small helicopter, because nothing else currently on the market meets the service’s key parameters for unmanned missions including flight durations of several hours with full beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) capabilities in a small, flexible package. "As a result, we took the initiative and decided to develop a Rega drone ourselves in collaboration with suitable partners," said Sascha Hardegger, Rega’s head of helicopter operations, who has been in charge of the service’s drone program since its inception 18 months ago.
The drone has a rotor disk of just over six feet and is built to fly at altitudes up to 320 feet agl. It is equipped with satellite navigation, a flight computer loaded with digital terrain and obstacle data, and an emergency parachute. It can independently detect and avoid other aircraft and obstacles. The drone is designed to fly in a variety of conditions including limited visibility that would ground manned SAR helicopters.