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.
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.
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.