Drones to Assist Search-and-Rescue in Maine
The FAA has approved the use of drones that fly at altitudes of 200 feet or lower to assist emergency responders.
Now, hikers in Maine might have a little help from above. The Federal Aviation Administration has approved drones to assist in search and rescue operations.
Maine-based Down East Emergency Medical Institute (DEEMI) has become the first civilian entity of its type to receive the permission.
They'll use two drones that fly at altitudes of 200 feet or lower to communicate with lost or injured people through a speaker system and deliver payloads of up to 12 pounds, which could include cellphones, radios, food, blankets and lighters to start fires.
One of the drones is a fixed-wing VK-Ranger EX-SAR, costing roughly $6,000 and with a wingspan of about 70 inches. The other is a larger multi-rotor VVK-FF-X4K, which cost between $20,000 and $25,000 to build and equip. The multi-rotor has a range of about 6 miles or 45 minutes of flying time. The drones will be painted red, white and yellow and will be equipped with strobe lights.
The drones, which can be flown via a program that runs on a laptop, iPad or smartphone, will live stream digital imagery, providing faster and more efficient access to data.
Drones will also be able to reach lost hikers in places difficult to access or in hazardous weather conditions. DEEMI is also exploring the potential for delivering medicine and equipment, such as heart medications, bee sting kits or automatic defibrillators, with the drone.
The FAA requires that licensed pilots operate the drones. The drones will be put to use shortly after pilot certification. Two people will be required to fly the drones, a pilot and a camera operator who will pan and zoom in order to find individuals in need.
Domestic uses for drones are growing to a wide range of applications not even considered a few years ago.