Archive

Archive for the ‘SAR’ Category

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

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

FAA Position on Contracted UAS Operations by Public Agencies

[The following was written in my role as the Advocacy Director for the National Association of Search and Rescue. A PDF version is available here – Public Agency SUAS-final.]

This is an interpretation of information in the Advisory Circular 00-1.1A “Public Aircraft Operations” and refers to Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR); and Title 49 U.S.C. §§ 40102(a)(41) and 40125.

Public agencies and civil operators are encouraged to retain their own attorney to review this interpretation.

After consultation with a UAV lawyer and their FAA consultant, we believe that civil aircraft operators may fly UAVs in support of government entities (public agencies) if the following conditions are met:

  • The public agency has a COA
  • A contract exists between the public agency and the civil aircraft operator
  • A one time declaration is filed with the FAA by the public agency
  • The mission(s) flown are purely public service
  • The public agency makes a determination before each mission that the mission is public serving

If these conditions are met, any civil operator regardless of certifications may operate a UAV in support of the public entity under the requirements set forth by the public entity and its COA.

CAUTIONARY NOTE: The civil operator is not required to have a 333, or to have passed the certification described in (proposed) Part 107 in these circumstances. However, the agency can and should require a 333 or the certification described in Part 107, as a requirement of the contract with the civil operator.”

It is extremely important to note that:

  • The public agency must have a COA.
  • This is transferring almost all risk, responsibility, and liability for certification, experience, training, etc. from the FAA to the public agency.
  • There must be a contract in place between the public agency and the civil operator (it is recommended that the contract include a requirement for the civil operator to hold a 333 or part 107)
  • The declaration names a specific government official and contract that covers the relationship

It is of vital importance that the public agency maintains control of the operator of the UAV and of the missions. The liability completely falls on the public agency. There is great risk if an agency enters into this relationship without a complete understanding of the risks associated with it.

This is spelled out in more detail in Advisory Circular 00-1.1A “Public Aircraft Operations” and refers to Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR); and Title 49 U.S.C. §§ 40102(a)(41) and 40125.

[An FAA presentation on this topic is available here – FAA Public Aircraft Presentation.]

Categories: SAR, UAVs

Position Papers – UAS Operations in Support of Search and Rescue

December 22, 2015 Leave a comment

UAS, unmanned aerial systems, can play a significant role in search and rescue (SAR) operations. There are a number of hurdles to deploying these assets successfully. In my role as advocacy director for the National Association of Search and Rescue (NASAR)  I’ve written position papers to address two of the hurdles:

  1. UAS deployment in support of SAR (and other disaster response incidents) requires professional UAS operators. At the present time, that means that all UAS operations must be performed under a valid COA either by public agencies or by Section 333 exempt operators. I wrote a paper for NASAR explaining this position and how public agencies and SAR volunteers can fly in support of SAR missions while complying with FAA policy/rules/guidelines.Here is the NASAR announcement which includes a link to the paper.
  2. Current FAA policy places three significant restrictions on UAS operations that make deployments extremely difficult and very ineffective:
    • The operator must issue a NOTAM 72 hours before flying. (SAR is an emergency. UAS assets are extremely helpful in the early stages. Search is an emergency.)
    • The operator must fly at or below 200 feet. (Imaging wide swaths of the area, operating in hilly or mountainous terrain, or establishing a communications relay with wide area coverage, requires higher altitudes.)
    • The operator must not fly any closer than 500 feet to non-participating individuals or property. (Search subjects do not go missing in areas with zero population and no structures.)

To address these issues, Jason Kamdar and I wrote a proposal for a “First Responder COA (FRCOA)”  to submit to the FAA. The document can be found here and the NASAR announcement about the paper and other related activity is here.

 

 

Categories: SAR, UAVs, Uncategorized

UAVs in SAR – Deployment and Effectiveness

August 23, 2015 6 comments

In an earlier post I wrote: “I think the search & rescue community should do a lot more work on designing and performing experiments with UAVs. Vendors and sales outlets keep touting their UAVs as being “good for search & rescue” without providing any data to support this claim, and often without really understanding SAR, SAR missions, and the challenges we face. (More on this in my upcoming presentation for NAASIC in Reno in September.)”

This is even more important when we consider what are appropriate missions for UAVs and how to deploy them.

I conducted two very quick experiments to illustrate two of the challenges we face. I intend to develop more formal experiments and welcome others who are interested in assisting with this effort.

Questions:

I wanted to answer two questions:

  1. How effective is a UAV when searching an area with trees?
  2. How effective is a UAV when searching for clues in a soybean field?

Both of these are simple examples of SAR problems you can adapt to your own operational area.

tl;dr – You need to be down very low when searching near trees and finding an unresponsive subject in a soybean field with an optical sensor is very tough.

Searching Near Trees:

If this was your search area, and if you were searching for an uncooperative or unresponsive subject (someone who isn’t going to come investigate the noise of the UAV), how would you plan your mission? How would you execute it? How long would it take? How effective would you be? (This was taken at 200 feet by a Phantom Vision 2+. The subject is currently in the frame.)

PV2+ 200 feet

Ok, if the subject were standing under a tree in this small area, what would you be able to see? (There are a lot of variables here – height of branches, folliage on or off, distance from subject, subject’s distance from the trunk, …. This is just an example.)

Distance from the UAV to the subject was less than 50 feet in all images.

At the subject’s altitude:

DCIM100MEDIA

At about a 30 degree angle:

DCIM100MEDIA

50 degrees. The subject’s legs are barely visible due to the contrast between his blue jeans and the green background. (And, if you were looking at this on a mobile device, what would you really be able to see?)

DCIM100MEDIA

70 degrees or so. The subject is not visible.

DCIM100MEDIA

Conclusion – you need to get under the level of the tree branches to search around trees for an unresponsive subject. This will increase your time required to search while diminishing your ability to control the UAV at long ranges.

Soybeans

I live, and search, in Illinois. Lots of corn, lots of soybeans. Searching for anyone in a corn field when the corn is above your head is tough. We’ll come back to that one later. Soybeans get to a few feet tall. Walking through soybean fields is … annoying … but you can certainly see a lot more. If the subject is standing up you can just walk to the edge of the field and say “Hey, there they are!” But, what if they are unresponsive and down?

Again, 50 feet up with a DJI Phantom Vision 2+. The subject dropped their high visibility orange shirt, a clue! We can see it easily on the edge of the field.

DCIM100MEDIA

But, what if they dropped it in the field? Since you know it is in the frame, and since it is right next to the pilot, you can probably see it. If you were looking at images from 100 acres of soybeans how confident are you that you’d see this clue, particularly on a small screen?

DCIM100MEDIA

Conclusion:

If you are using a normal consumer UAV to search for an unresponsive subject in an area with significant vegetation your probability of detection may be rather low.

Categories: SAR, UAVs Tags: ,