In 2017, while on holiday with his family in Cornwall, Loughborough University student Dominic Leatherland witnessed a teenager become detached from their bodyboard and pulled out to sea due to rough conditions. Leatherland says at one point the teen was without a flotation aid for around 35 seconds and was left thinking ‘why can’t we just fly something over the waves and drop a flotation device with the casualty’.
As part of his final year project, Dominic has designed SERVITA – a small, compact drone that flies above hazardous waters to locate individuals in distress and deploys a buoyancy aid that automatically inflates when hitting the water, helping casualties stay afloat while they wait for a rescue team to reach them.
GPS and live-feed cameras allow pilot to control drone
The proposed design uses technology such as GPS, a live-feed camera, and two ‘servo’ mechanisms that allow the pilot to control the pitch angle of the camera and the inflatable-release mechanism. The inflatable buoyancy aid uses existing technology inspired by automatic inflating lifejackets, and, though this technology is not inherently new, Leatherland says its use and deployment via drone is a new application.
“I picture SERVITA being used by beach lifeguards and emergency services to provide rapid support to individuals who are in aquatic distress and the time in which they can be rescued is increased by variables such as distance, sea conditions, and location, or the casualty is deteriorating rapidly”, said Leatherland. “The early intervention SERVITA can provide could be the matter of life and death for some casualties.”