Blue light drones

Bryce Allcorn, service delivery manager for UK-based Consortiq, which offers UAV training and consultancy services, considers the variety of drones now on the market that are suitable for emergency services use
 
Since 2008/9 in the UK, unmanned air vehicles have started to be used by the emergency services to provide aerial situational awareness at large, complicated, or protracted incidents. This started off with one or two fire and rescue services using relatively basic (by modern standards) single or quad-rotor systems to provide both live video and thermal imagery feeds to support incident resolution.
As time progresses, there has been a very traditional approach with regards platform selection, with a couple of platforms in the lower price bracket and one main contender in at the very high end of the market. The last year has seen a large development in the UAV platform market, mostly taken from the excellent innovation and utilisation within the commercial operators market sector, and which has led to extremely compelling improvements in UAV technology to the benefit of all market sectors, not least the emergency services.
Commonly used platforms tend to include the DJI Inspire 1, which has an excellent range of sensors (cameras) including good quality thermal and zoom sensors. Yuneec provides the very affordable Typhoon H with both good quality 4k/HD camera and basic thermal capability, but at a price point well below the DJI Inspire. Then the sector generally jumps to the Aeryon Sky Ranger, which tolerates much harsher weather conditions, provides longer flight times and provides a range of quality daylight and thermal integrated sensors, but at a cost that reflects its military sector background.
This traditional approach does tend to sit around the quadcopter (four motors/rotors) methodology, with the exception of the Yuneec range of hexacopters that provide a degree of redundancy that a quadcopter traditionally cannot offer should a motor or prop fail mid-flight. 
The last year or so has seen great steps when it comes to UAV innovation – companies like DJI being able to produce a platform like the Mavic which has an amazing specification for its size and, while not necessarily suited to the emergency services sector (though you’d be quite blinkered if you dismissed it from every scenario), does highlight how quickly technology advances and how sectors such as the emergency services need to be receptive to this technology and consider different options.
UAVs fit into two main categories (multirotor and fixed-wing) and each of these is split into two main weight categories (0-7 kg and 7-20 kg). Most emergency services use a multirotor in the 0-7 kg category, mainly because it allows them to be operated in controlled airspace without the requirement to gain permission from the controlling air traffic centre, although good practice is to advise the ATC of the deployment. In addition, sub-7 kg allows deployment within congested areas (50 m from vehicles, vessels and property not under control).
Fixed-wing UAVs offer much greater flight duration, can carry greater payloads, have obvious redundancy that a multirotor can’t offer and prove very useful in large-area search deployments. Developments for hybrid platforms allow the advantages a multirotor provides, such as vertical take-off/landing and the ability to hover if required, but also provide long flight duration along with loiter modes that allow them to circle a particular point for very long periods of time.
Looking at the available multirotor platforms, we have selected six that offer different opportunities to the emergency services, all multirotor and below 7 kg, with approximate prices in UK pounds.
 

DJI Inspire 1 or 2

The inspire has been around for a couple of years now, which in UAV terms is an eternity. A number of iterations of the Inspire 1 were released, followed by the  Inspire 2 in early 2017. The Inspire 1, in its most basic format, can be purchased for £1,800, but this rapidly increases towards £13,000 by the time a thermal camera has been added to the daylight camera, and spare batteries and associated equipment have been added. The Inspire 2 offers longer flight times (up to 27 minutes), much higher flight speeds, intelligent obstacle avoidance and higher quality optical/thermal sensors. By the time an Inspire 2 has been equipped with spare batteries, quality daylight and thermal sensors and so on, £15,000 will be easily spent.

 

Positives Negatives
Flight duration 27 mins Weather capability max wind 10 m/s*
Variety and quality of sensors Security of downlink (live feed link)
Deployment time Regular firmware updates
Ease of waypoint flying  Limited operating temp of Smart batteries

 

 

 Yuneec Typhoon H (or H520)

The Yuneec Typhoon H was released to the UK market in June 2016 offering an immediate degree of redundancy not seen with the current ready-to-fly products, in addition to the ability to have a separate camera operator using a second controller. The full three-axis gimbal at this price point was extremely impressive. The Typhoon H offers similar flight times to the DJI Inspire 1 while at a similar price point the Phantom 3 and the Phantom 4. The H520 is due for release imminently. While prices have not been released, it’s expected to compete directly with the DJI Inspire 2, but be aimed at the industrial end of the commercial spectrum, which could be good news for the emergency services as it will be offered with a superior range of sensors, both thermal and video, compared to the Typhoon H.  

Positives Negatives
Flexibility and ease of use of the sensors Weather capability (Basic Typhoon H)
Deployment time No live streaming function
Ease of waypoint flying Flight duration just under 20 minutes
Value for money Flight duration just under 20 minutes
Dual image with thermal camera (HD and Thermal) overlaid  
UK-based Yuneec support/repairs  

 

Aeryon SkyRanger

Considered the ultimate platform by some emergency services, the SkyRanger offers a solution for most needs, can operate in heavy wind and rain, boasts high-quality optics (30x optical zoom/60x digital zoom) and offers advanced thermal capability. A genuine military sector product which has obvious benefits in the emergency services sector and, until recently, limited obvious market competion. The price is in the range of £55k.  

 

Positives Negatives
Flight duration  Lack of downlink options
Quality of sensors Cost
Weather capability Possible reluctance to deploy due to cost
Ease of waypoint operation (not physically flown in the traditional UAV sense)  Waypoint flying (not physically flown in the traditional UAV sense reducing the need for pilot skill)
Onboard no-fly-zone configuration  
UK-based Yuneec support/repairs  

 

 

Aerialtronics Altura Zenith ATX4

Aerialtronics is well known within the commercial sector and is also very popular with emergency services globally. The ATX4, which comes in at around £25k, has been built from Aerialtronics’ wealth of experience, and the ability to add individual payloads (rather than being limited to manufacturer-supplied options) opens up different uses, such as gas/air quality monitoring and chemical detection at HAZMAT incidents.  

Positives Negative
Flight duration (30mins) Wind capability ATX4 max. 8 m/s
Ability to install any payload/sensors  
Deployment time  
Can be deployed in light rain/snow  
Onboard no-fly-zone configuration  
UK-based Yuneec support/repairs  
 
 

DJI M210

DJI recently launched the MATRICE 200 series and the M210, priced at over £15k, is considered the most appropriate of the range for emergency services use due to the flexible payload mounting, ability to fly in light rain, ADS-B receiver and separate ‘FPV’ camera to aid the pilot. In addition, the M200 series uses a dual battery system that has been stated to offer greater redundancy than most quadcopters. DJI’s extensive experience will undoubtedly push further development of the M210 and hopefully this will be to the benefit of the emergency services.  

Positives Negatives
Flexibility of payload fixing Wind capabability 10 m/s
Variety and quality of sensors Security of downlink (live feed link)
Deployment time Flight duration (24 mins with payload)
Can be deployed in light rain Potential for very regular firmware updates
Dual battery system (redundancy) Dual battery system (additional cost)
UK manufacture and support  
 
 

Evolve Dynamics SkyMantis

A left-field option here – Evolve Dynamics is a small UAV company based in Guildford, UK, and has been involved in the drone industry for several years. It recently developed a UAV aimed specifically at emergency services and search and rescue teams around the world. Evolve Dynamics is planning to launch the SkyMantis in summer 2017, with a price tag of around £15-20k. Specification includes a high standard of sensors, dual 30x HD/640x512 Flir IR/thermal, capable of deployments in high winds and rain, and  sensors than can both look up vertically as well as straight down, a unique feature which provides ultimate flexibility when deployed.  

Positives Negatives
Flight duration (1 hour) New player to this market sector
Variety and quality of sensors  
Deployment time (fold-up design)  
Weather capability (22 m/s and IP67 rating)  
5 km video streaming (secure/encrypted)  
UK manufacture and support  

 

 
Author
As service delivery manager, Bryce Allcorn is responsible for ensuring the smooth integration of Consortiq’s software systems into organisational operations as well as supporting the development of the product range. Bringing expertise with him from his service as a crew manager in the fire and rescue industry, Bryce is also an expert in emergency services and plays a major part in helping these organisations implement drones into their operations.
 
About Consortiq
Consortiq are cutting edge innovators in drone and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). We transform business through drone consultancy, aerial filming, hardware and our UAS management system software, CQNet.
 
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