SAR UAVs: Video examples of IR, optical, and other challenges

September 15, 2018 Leave a comment

We are working on developing a program for UAVs for SAR in NH. Part of this effort involves evaluating and selecting appropriate sensors. Another is “simply” figuring out what works, what doesn’t, what the use cases are, how to meet those use cases (if we can), ….

We’ve done a lot of scenario work and put together some videos to illustrate some of the challenges SAR UAVs face.


  • Successful IR find. Subject was on edge of the tree line, early in the day, away from the sun so the ground didn’t have a chance to warm up. As you can tell from the optical view, the subject probably would have been located via an optical sensor as well.


  • Unsuccessful IR find. Subject was just inside the tree line and hard to detect with an optical sensor, one of those use cases where you want IR to work. But it was late morning on a ski slope that was in full sun for a few hours and the human’s heat signature gets lost in the clutter.(The subject appears in both 50 second video clips, and you know that they’re present. Now imagine that you’re looking at this in real time after flying for fifteen minutes. How likely are you to detect the subject then?)



Searching in real time with a UAV is hard. You must fly a slow, methodical flight path to get decent coverage. Conditions must be in your favor. The sensor operator must be trained to look for clues and, if you are using IR, the sensor operator must have experience interpreting IR imagery.

See the end of this video for another example of searching with an optical sensor.

In most cases, I think that searching with a UAV will either be a initial search (aka points and routes) or a post flight image review mission to get decent PODs.


Categories: SAR, UAVs

Demonstrating Some UAVs for SAR Challenges

We’re developing a UAV program for SAR in New Hampshire. Lots of things “in flight” on this. Some recent posts:

We are flying a lot of training scenarios. Educate the canine handlers, develop use cases, evaluate software, evaluate hardware, develop SOPs, everything.

I am sharing the following video from a recent training session to share some of our findings in an informal manner and to hopefully encourage others to do the same.

(If you are in New England and working on a UAV program for Public Safety, please contact me and I’ll add you to the New England Council for Public Safety email list. If you are elsewhere, I encourage you to join the National Council.)

Visual demonstration of requirements:


1) Really need a “go to UTM (or lat/long)” capability. The handler was under a tree and finding her was the first problem.
2) Seeing anything on a small screen is hard. I missed the ripples while flying. During playback, they clearly indicated where the handler was.
3) Need communications protocol. She was trying to guide me to a clue. Right, left, et al aren’t clear. River left only makes sense to river situations. (IR illuminators?) We did have radio comms but without a VOX mic, that slowed the process down.
4) Need strobes on the handlers to quickly locate them.
5) I am right over a pink Croc. Did you see it? I certainly did not until later.

Additional challenges, with narration:

A lot of people ask me about search patterns, height, detection capabilities, etc. I figured I’d just share this video and narrate it to show, in real time, some of the challenges I was facing.

Note: This is all done with a Mavic Pro. Other (more expensive) platforms will address some of these issues.


Categories: SAR, UAVs

How to (Tactically) Succeed

I’ve had an insanely productive week – hired two people, built three antenna masts, built one “go kit” for SAR/EM communications, moved two wildly different critical projects forward, identified an issue in another organization and the person who could help us fix it, sealed and caulked a bath tub, …. You get the idea.

And so, after getting even more stuff done this Saturday morning (identifying RF issue affecting radio power supply, fixing it, sorting out various cables that need to be in that kit), I decided to pause and figure out WHY I’d been so productive.

I thought about the various projects, consciously and subconsciously, long enough to mentally ensure that everything was in place to accomplish the goals.

Looking back, what usually blocks me from completing a project is my failure to have the right resources – tools, components, people, software packages, whatever – available to get the job done. I’d get part way into the project and would be forced to stop while I located the missing resource. And once stopped, I stayed stopped because something else was there that I needed to accomplish. (Squirrel!)

This approach creates some semblance of chaos in the form of bits of random gear on the floor, or lots of tabs open in my browser, or an online shopping cart populated but not purchased. But when my mind says “Let’s go!” it seems to be triggered by a subconscious awareness that everything is in place to go, and to finish.

These were all tactical successes, but if you fail tactically too often, you are unlikely to achieve strategic success.


Categories: Random Musings

Rapid deployment of SAR UAV

July 25, 2018 1 comment

We are working on developing a SAR UAV program. This includes SOPs, use cases, equipment load outs, software, training, everything.

As part of the R&D effort, I’ve been working on building our the UAV equipment kit to determine what is required, what is desired, what works, what fails, how to pack it, etc.

This video demonstrates our ability to transition from hiking to flight operations in two minutes, including the time required to remove the gimbal lock that I always forget.

The end of the video also shows some of our operational challenges, in this case finding a launch site and very dense foliage. I had to zig zag my way up. (And back down, which was more “interesting”.)

And, a drone’s eye view of the same operation.

Categories: SAR, UAVs

Mavic Pro kit for search and rescue operations

July 9, 2018 3 comments

I am assisting a local agency with developing a SAR UAV program. Among other things, we will develop use cases and their attendant requirements to drive platform selection but for the moment we’re using DJI Mavic Pros.

What follows is my working UAV SAR kit built around the Mavic Pro.

IMG_2635 (1)

Each component of the kit will be discussed in more detail below. Clockwise from the upper left we have:

  1. Lightweight HDMI external monitor, USB or 12V DC powered
  2. Microsoft Surface Pro
  3. Molle water bottle carrier (repurposed as a Mavic carrier)
  4. Semi-hard shell Mavic case
  5. Dedicated phone, external battery, cables, and spare props
  6. Dual radio harness with type approved VHF radio, type approved air band radio, GPS
  7. Rapid parallel battery charger, 12V “cigarette lighter” charger


External data viewing and processing

IMG_2639 (1)

The kit includes a Microsoft Surface Pro running Windows 10. It doesn’t really have enough power to run Pix4D (for example) but it is sufficient for some in-field image processing. It can also run Mission Planner for PixHawk enabled UAVs and can serve as a backup data storage device.

The item on the left is a very inexpensive, lightweight, USB powered HDMI screen. The Surface Pro drives it quite well. We need to determine is the Mavic controller can.

Molle Mavic carrier

IMG_2640 (1)

This is a molle water bottle carrier with a large semi-padded main compartment, a zippered front pouch, and a zippered lower pouch. The Mavic Pro fits snugly in the main compartment with room for a spare battery below it in that compartment. A second spare battery fits in the lower zippered compartment. Cables, phone, and other small items fit in the front compartment. There is no room for the controller but we will attach another molle bag to the side of this carrier to hold the controller.

This would be the bare minimum kit and could be strapped to other gear or carried on its own.

Semi-hard shell Mavic case

IMG_2636 (1)

There are lots of Mavic cases out there. We went with this one because it has room for three spare batteries, the foam is laser cut rather than pick and pull, and the case is semi-rigid.

We also added prop clips (white item over Mavic) to hold the props in place when using the molle carrier, a controller stick guard (lower right, black) to keep the sticks from moving or being damaged when not in use, and a phone mount that moves the phone above the controller and allows for phones in hard cases to be used.

Dedicated phone, external battery, cables, and spare props

IMG_2641 (1)

All SAR flight operations must use a dedicated mobile device rather than a personally owned device. This limits exposure to malware, keeps potential evidence on a device owned by the organization, and provides for consistency across kits. This happens to be a Galaxy 8, chosen for maximum screen brightness.

Also included here are an external battery for recharging the phone, a charger for the phone, spare props, and spare cables.

Dual radio harness, radios, GPS

IMG_2637 (1)

The UAV operator needs to be able to communicate with others involved in the response and also with other manned and unmanned aerial assets. The kit includes a type approved VHF radio for response communications and a type approved air band radio for air operations. (The pilot program lead operator has a ham license (not required for this equipment) and manned aircraft ratings.)

Also included is a GPS unit. The team normally uses Garmin Alpha 100’s which automatically transmit on MURS frequencies to enable base to track assets in the field. To limit potential sources of interference, this GPS unit is passive and does not broadcast.

Rapid parallel battery charger, 12V “cigarette lighter” charger

IMG_2638 (1)

The standard Mavic battery charger is serial – it charges one battery, then the next, then the next. Charging three batteries can take upward of four hours. This charger will charge three batteries and the remote controller in parallel, dramatically improving available flight time.

The stock 12V cigarette charger is included to go out with the molle carrier kit.


And that is the working draft of our basic Mavic Pro SAR kit.

Questions, comments, and feedback are most appreciated.


Categories: Emergency Response, SAR, UAVs

How to succeed as a startup

Book, in Firefly, once said “Out here, people struggled to get by with the most basic technologies; a ship would bring you work, a gun would help you keep it. A captain’s goal was simple: find a crew, find a job, keep flying.”

The startup version is:

“As a startup, people struggle to get by with the most basic resources; an idea will bring you attention, passion will help you keep it. A founder’s job is simple: build a team, find revenue, survive.”

Categories: Uncategorized

Guidance to UAV Operators Responding to Florida

September 9, 2017 Leave a comment

[I am the Public Information Officer for National Council on Public Safety UAS. This post is written in that role. We will stand up an official location for future announcements.]

The Director, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Program, FSU, working in conjunction with local, state, and Federal agencies, requests that all volunteer UAS operators respect the following:

Volunteer/humanitarian aid/emergency response operators:

  1. Do not self-deploy during response/life-safety, it’s dangerous.
  2. Register on
  3. When the State gets to recovery, we will need help. Registered volunteers should report to a Volunteer Reception Center for vetting and assignment.
  4. Be prepared to be self sufficient. Do not assume that food, shelter, water, transportation, power, medical support, and fuel will be available to support your activities

Commercial operators:

  • All commercial operators working for utilities, insurance companies, etc should comply with their Part 107 restrictions.
  • Please coordinate operations through local and state EOCs if flying during response phase.

Official agencies:

  • Official agencies should contact the FAA Systems Operations Support Center (SOSC) at 202-267-8276 and request an Emergency COA or SGI. This authorization will permit operations inside any posted TFRs or within controlled airspace.


All operators in Florida should utilize Airmap (including registering of flights) for maximum visibility. Emergency Management is using Airmap to help deconflict air operations.

Other guidance:

  • Low flying aircraft will be an issue. 
  • Monitor FAA and other resources for new or changing TFRs.
  • Follow the eCOA process when working with a sponsoring agency or private sector partner. 
  • Be patient with the SOSC as they will get bombarded with requests