Drones For Emergency Services: Use and Value

Drones For Emergency Services: Use and Value


Drones are being used increasingly for emergency services, but how can emergency services leverage and safely deploy such technology?

This week Skytango hosts a special guest post by Anna Jackman, Lecturer at Royal Holloway University, on the reasons why drones are increasingly being employed as tools by emergency service responders.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, as the platforms are more commonly known, are the technology of the moment.

Drones are increasingly being employed in a growing range of hobbyist, commercial, and civilian roles, with their potential domestic applications considered “as diverse as the platforms themselves”.

This sentiment is reflected in the growing popularity and accessibility of commercially available off-the-shelf drones, used recreationally by hobbyists, with estimates that approximately 200,000 platforms being sold per month globally.

Furthermore, in a recent report, professional services giant Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC), proposed that the global market for the commercial applications of drones, spanning: infrastructure, transport, insurance, media, telecommunication, agriculture and mining industries, could be valued at over $127 billion by 2020.

Lastly, drones are increasingly being enrolled in a range of civilian applications. Referring to those applications which are neither commercial nor recreational, drones have been employed as tools for humanitarian, disaster, and emergency service response.

The latter will be the focus of this piece.

DJI’s report on lifesaving drone operations

In profiling the ways in which drones have been employed as tools to both “save and protect human life” in emergency situations to-date, leading drone manufacturer DJI this year released a report entitled ‘Lives Saved: A Survey of Drones in Action’.

Opening with the assertion that drones allow first responders to

“accomplish tasks faster, more efficiently, at a lower cost, and in many cases more safely than in the past,”

the report reviews 18 incidents in which drones were deployed by emergency services professionals or members of the public in assistance of such operations.

Together, these actions were associated with saving 59 lives.

In these instances, drones were used in both search and rescue (SAR) and supply delivery capacities, with the report concluding that SAR may be the most effective use of lifesaving drones.

EENA and DJI’s partnership

In making this claim, DJI turned to further research undertaken in collaboration with the European Emergency Number Association (EENA), in which the organizations worked with emergency services teams in the UK, Ireland, Denmark, and Iceland in order to evaluate potential use cases for drones, assess challenges, and develop recommendations therein.

Drawing upon the results of 60 call-outs in which the drone was deployed (those spanning: missing persons, fire, possible suicide, crowd safety, bomb threats, fuel and/or chemical spillages, fishing vessels adrift, animal rescue, and light aircraft crashes), the research concluded that whilst often not designed explicitly for such roles, drones have been used to:

  • quickly locate missing persons (covering a 1km² area within 20 minutes)
  • provide a valuable aerial perspective facilitating safe operations for both crews and members of the public
  • in the detection of “hot spots” through the use of thermal imaging cameras.

Given such advantages, both interest in and the deployment of drones by emergency services is growing.

In the UK, for example, while the West Midlands Fire Service were the first to operationally deploy the platforms in 2007, the number of operational forces using or planning to use drones, notably jumped to two thirds of fire services, and half of police forces in 2016, as Sky News reported.

In this vein, Sussex Police are now operating the largest drone project in the UK (comprised of 5 drones and 40 trained operators), with Devon and Cornwall Police following suit with the announcement of the “first 24-hour drone unit in the UK”.

The Skybound Rescuer Project

Despite the growing interest in the drone as an emergency services tool – Gemma Alcock of The Skybound Rescuer Project, an organization founded to bring clarity to educate the search and rescue community about the value of drones, notes that many of the drones marketed to the emergency services sector have simply been “transferred” to this market with little or no adaptation, rather than being designed specifically for it.

The Skybound Rescuer Project, then, has stepped up – seeking to provide resources and action plans to get SAR drones airborne. In highlighting the importance of this goal, The Skybound Rescuer team released this video, demonstrating their vision of the drone as a rescue tool.

Attending the Rescue Drone Awareness Course

Seeking to roll this out, The Skybound Rescuer Project has introduced a ‘Rescue Drone Awareness’ course.

Running their first course on 6th April 2017 at Popham Airfield in Hampshire, I was lucky enough to be in attendance.

Bringing together participants from UK Fire and Rescue, Search and Rescue, and the Police, this training course was billed as “a one-day workshop for managers and tacticians to gain an understanding of this rapidly emerging new technology “.

It aimed at equipping participants with an understanding of how to evaluate or plan for the purchase of a small drone and the associated equipment, what questions to ask manufacturers ahead of purchase or lease, and what training and regulatory requirements are applicable therein.

The course was a fast-paced and intensive foray through the contemporary civilian drone landscape, covering: terminology, drone categorisation, tailored capability reviews, a technical overview of payload features and capabilities, regulatory requirements, best practice and risk mitigation, factors impacting and limiting operations, and key questions for practitioners to pose to manufacturers ahead of purchasing or leasing a drone.

As pictured, the course also included a live-flying demonstration, allowing participants to see the drone in action, as well as understanding the necessary steps prior to becoming airborne.

Photo credit: Anna Jackman

In participating in this course, what struck me was the preparation necessitated in realizing a future in which the drone is a “welcome addition to the emergency service toolkit”.

Recognizing the value of drones in emergency services

That said, the value of such platforms to the emergency services is increasingly being recognized.

This can be evidenced by both the dramatic increase in the use of drones in a range of short-term emergencies and disaster response situations globally, as highlighted in Up in the Air: A Global Estimate of Non-Violent Drone Use 2009-2015, book published by the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace StudiesUniversity of San Diego.

It’s also evidenced by the growing partnerships forming between commercial parties and the emergency services sector, including:

The emergency services sector, then, appears to be living up to its European Commission designation as a key civilian UAV application market.

What emergency services should watch over

As has been widely noted within the sector, however, strides forward remain bound to legitimate concerns that surround drone usage more widely.

As is frequently documented in the media, drones are associated with risk: whether through close-calls with manned aircraft, their enrolment in inappropriate surveillance, unsafe flights, irresponsible stunts, or as platforms utilised in the illegal transportation of contraband.

As such, there remains an ongoing tension between the drone as both, simultaneously, an operational resource and a potentially recklessly or maliciously-employed commercially-available device.

In an environment in which the drone can be viewed negatively then, it remains particularly important for emergency services seeking to leverage and safely deploy such technology to adhere to and challenge the limits of relevant regulation, develop and implement best practice protocol, conduct risk assessment and mitigation, clearly demarcate their platforms and operational sites, and engage with the community and public more widely in showcasing this potentially lifesaving technology.

Dr Anna Jackman, the author of the above article, is a Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research has involved fieldwork with a range of drone users, regulators, and industry practitioners. Anna is interested in understanding both how and why different operational communities deploy drones, as well as the mechanisms through which the platforms are governed and sold more widely. She can be contacted via Twitter @ahjackman.

Zenmuse X7 Lands On The Drone Market With A Touch Of Class

Zenmuse X7 Lands On The Drone Market With A Touch Of Class

DJI released Zenmuse X7, its latest camera offering for use in the drone market. Weighing in with a light 449g (1lb) body, this impressive camera packs an exciting suite of features.

With the pace of advances in drone tech increasing over the last number of years, the imaging world has had to skip smartly to keep up.

And with UAVs getting ever more compact, issues of weight & balance have become a huge consideration for pilots looking to sell their content in a competitive market.

In the recently released Zenmuse X7, DJI offers a lightweight, compact unit that delivers an impressive quality product for a camera of any size, but the quality of image it can produce is enough to make the mouth of even the most demanding editor water.

So how have they done it? I’m going to have a look through the specs of the Zenmuse X7 and try to translate some of the science in a relatable way and hopefully walk you through the highlights:

Impressive specs for its size to performance ratio

Let’s start with an overview of the specs of the Zenmuse X7:

  • Dimensions: 151 × 108 × 132 mm
  • Weight (Body only): 449g
  • 6k video, up to 24mp stills

Built to work in harmony with the Inspire 2 drone, the camera comes in at only 631 grams (1.4 lbs) when fitted with the 16mm 2.8 lens, giving you a flight time of approximately 23 minutes.

This is quite a lightweight body in comparison to most offerings in this category, but admittedly not as light as some of the compact action cameras on the market. However, there is a huge difference in image quality when you account for things such as the lens for a start, but we’ll get on to the lens in a moment.

Hi resolution recording

“The Zenmuse X7 offers everything professional content creators need to make their aerial footage as stunning and vivid as they demand,”

says Paul Pan, senior product manager at DJI.

The Zenmuse X7 uses a Super 35 CineCore 2.1 sensor that has amazing sensitivity, giving you an impressive 14 stops of dynamic range and really smooth shadow details when shooting in low light conditions.

It’s capable of capturing up to 6k video, and a new DJI Cinema Colour System (DCCS) renders stunning tones & depth across the spectrum.

6K resolution is pretty phenomenal visually. Now, I know you’re thinking that the consumer market is still trying to fill out with 4k screens and it might take a while before 6k becomes mainstream.

Realistically, however, many productions are already shooting in 6k with Netflix for example, producing some of their ‘Originals’ in 6k keeping up with box office features such as The Avengers, The Revenant, and Transformers who also chose this format but even they are playing catch up with features like Guardians of the Galaxy Vo. 2 shot in 8k using RED’s Vista Vision Camera.

As a stills photographer who has been shooting RAW files for as long as they’ve been available, I can firmly attest to the saying that “It’s better to have & not need than to need & not have”.

Even if you’re not outputting your product in 6k the benefits of having the information there to draw from and to manipulate are nearly endless.

The extra dynamic range is certainly visible when comparing the colour saturation and noise in the upper and lower ranges when shooting in 6k.

Versatile Zenmuse X7 colour space

Zenmuse X7 is an ideal camera for cinematographers and professional photographers alike from a colour perspective.

“For the Zenmuse X7, we took our colour science to the next level, we consulted the world leading authorities in colour science, Technicolor. With their guidance, our engineers developed an optimized gamma curve for the X7 allowing more latitude without sacrificing image quality.”

says Paul Pan, Senior Product Manager at DJI.

DCCS features a new D-Log Curve and D-Gamut RGB colour space to give more flexibility and colour options during the post-production process.

The D-Log Curve further extends the dynamic range, while the D-Gamut RGB colour space preserves more colour information to support the most demanding filmmaking scenarios, providing accurate colour for quick and easy post-processing.

To meet the rigorous requirements of professionals, the Zenmuse X7 captures the highest image resolutions ever for an integrated drone camera.

It is capable of shooting 6K CinemaDNG RAW or 5.2K Apple ProRes at up to 30 FPS, as well as 3.9K CinemaDNG RAW or 2.7K ProRes at up to 59.94 FPS to integrate seamlessly into industry-standard post-production workflows.

Lens availability

There are four prime lenses available for this body. 16mm, 24mm, 35mm & 50mm, all F2.8 Aspherical lenses and offering resolutions of up to 8K. Made of ultra-lightweight carbon fibre, having this range of lenses in your bag should have you covered no matter what you’re shooting.

Another nice feature is the impressive range of sensitivity. The ISO ranges from 100 – 25600 for stills, and 100 – 6400  for video at its maximum 6k setting.

Shutter speeds from 8s – 1/8000s using the electronic shutter, and 8s – 1/1000s using the mechanical shutter allows you to play with either end of the scale, either dragging your shutter or capturing fast-moving action without motion interference.

Price & availability

DJI began shipping the X7 in November, with a $2,699 price tag in the U.S. The lenses will be available for $1,299 each, with the exception of the $1,199 50mm lens.

A complete prime lens kit will also be on offer for $4,299.

You can find the full list of specs and FAQ’s on the Zenmuse X7 on the official DJI product page.

Would I buy the Zenmuse X7?

This is a well-built piece of equipment that deserves to be considered for that list of things to buy when you feel you’ve earned a treat or need to upgrade. The price range is not unreasonable for the spec on offer.

It is compact and comparatively lightweight, and the range of available lenses will satisfy most creative visions.

It is, however, the quality that swings it for me. It feels a little like the first steps from the old digital sensor in SLRs to the world of full frame sensors.

The richness of colour and depth of detail and clarity in both the highlights and shadows paired with phenomenal optics, promise to deliver a quality product that will satisfy the most demanding of clients.

DJI Unveils Smart Controller With Built-In Monitor at CES 2019

DJI Unveils Smart Controller With Built-In Monitor at CES 2019

DJI has launched a new remote controller for its drones at CES 2019. The Smart Controller combines an ultra-bright display with all of the usual controls, in a move that the Chinese manufacturer will be hoping appeals to pilots who want to fly without having to bring along a phone or tablet.

DJI Smart controller for mavic 2
DJI Smart Controller: An Upgrade on CrystalSky?

The DJI Smart Controller is the latest product to join the company’s ecosystem of accessories.  The 5.5” screen is built into the controller itself, giving pilots one less thing to worry about having to carry around, potentially lose or need to attach before taking off.

The Smart Controller is compatible with DJI’s newest drones: The Mavic 2 Zoom and Mavic 2 Pro. The Mavic 2 Enterprise series will be supported in future updates. The screen displays flight video in Full HD resolution.

The Smart Controller’s ultra-bright display offers an output of 1000 cd/m2, equivalent to twice the brightness of standard smartphones.

The controller comes pre-loaded with an Android dashboard that supports the DJI GO 4, and DJI Pilot applications. The DJI GO 4 app also has been revamped to include SkyTalk, a feature that allows pilots to livestream the drone’s camera feed to social channels including Facebook, Instagram and WeChat.

The Smart Controller also features a number of third-party apps to help with editing and data management.

The DJI Smart Controller offers 2.5 hours of battery life and the ability to operate in temperatures as cold as -4°Fahrenheit and as hot as 104°Fahrenheit.

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As we expected, DJI used their platform and the publicity around the annual CES event in Las Vegas to share the news.

“CES features the newest and smartest tech innovations from around the world, and that makes it the perfect place for DJI to launch our Smart Controller,” said Mario Rebello, Vice President & Country Manager, North America.

“The Smart Controller is DJI’s latest tool to allow anyone to capture incredible perspectives from the sky, and we are excited that CES attendees can experience it first-hand. We invite everyone at CES to try it at our booth, which features our latest innovations in the drone and imaging field and demonstrates how DJI has established itself as a global technology leader.”

DJI Smart Controller: Price and Availability

The new Smart Controller will be available for purchase beginning in early 2019 for $649 USD, slightly more than a 5.5″ CrystalSky monitor.

DJI has confirmed that combo packages that bundle the new Smart Controller with Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom will be available as well.

Malek Murison is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for tech trends and innovation. He handles product reviews, major releases and keeps an eye on the enthusiast market for DroneLife.
Email Malek

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California: Drones Stitch Helpful Aerial Maps in Wake of Deadly Camp Fire

California: Drones Stitch Helpful Aerial Maps in Wake of Deadly Camp Fire

While California’s Camp Fire has earned the infamous title of costliest world disaster of 2018, the aftermath could have been worse, say fire experts, had it not been for drones.

The series of wildfires claimed more than 80 lives and destroyed thousands of buildings across Butte County. However, thanks to UAV companies DJI and DroneDeploy, county and state agencies were able to maximize both disaster response and damage assessment over some 17,000 acres of ravaged landscape.

A cadre of 16 drone teams, led by Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, Stockton Police, Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies, launched 516 flights using DJI Phantom 4 platforms coupled with software analysis by DroneDeploy to collect 70,000 images resulting in 1.4 trillion pixels of data over a two-day period.

Following collection, the data was transported to DroneDeploy’s San Francisco headquarters office for processing. Given the lack of cell and data networks at the fire sites, teams delivered the data via old-school physical disk.  DroneDeploy’s team created a detailed, interactive map within a day after receiving the drone images and data.

After the imagery was georeferenced and stitched into a map format, Butte County officials posted a public fire map to help residents and officials assess the damage.

The detailed footage and maps help determine the condition of homes, which in turn can expedite insurance claims. The data also assists recovery crews, demolition crews, city planners, scientists and researchers, and the general public, to get a better understanding of the situation.

“We’re hoping that one, it will help people understand the devastation that we’re dealing with, understand the very difficult task that we have,” said Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea. “We’re hoping it’ll provide them information that will help them get their insurance claims started.”

“Wildfire victims also made good use of the maps. With entire neighborhoods mapped, homeowners were able to submit the imagery to insurance providers to process claims immediately — a process that traditionally can take days or weeks. Many have used the imagery to gain access to FEMA relief funds for the families affected by the fires.”

Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.

Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.

Email Jason

Subscribe to DroneLife here.

Indemnis Parachute For DJI Drones Meets International Safety Standard

Indemnis Parachute For DJI Drones Meets International Safety Standard

Back in 2017, Alaska-based Indemnis partnered with DJI to develop parachute standards and systems that could be deployed in an instant, protecting valuable multi-rotor cargo and, of course, whoever or whatever is unlucky enough to be directly underneath should an issue occur.

Today, Indemnis and DJI have announced that the Nexus parachute system for the Inspire 2 drone has been validated as compliant with the new international standard for drone parachutes. The announcement follows a strenuous testing procedure at the New York UAS Test Site in Rome, N.Y. managed by NUAIR

On December 22, 2018 Indemnis successfully passed the ASTM F3322-18 standard testing matrix. The technical standard is designed to enable safe flight operations over people on small unmanned aerial vehicles while using a parachute as a risk mitigation device. The Nexus is the first and only parachute recovery system in the world to become certified and compliant in meeting the requirements of the standard.

The standard specification is made up of 45 functionality tests across 5 different failure scenarios. Each is designed to validate the system’s deployment and canopy inflation within the full flight envelope of the aircraft.

indemnis parachute system

Indemnis opens door to new possibilities for commercial operations

The work of DJI and Indemnis is arguably geared toward proving that drones can safely operate above people and sensitive locations.

A reliable, validated parachute technology like the Nexus, which initiates when flight anomalies are detected, could well become a necessary component of future waivers granted by the FAA. 

A statement from DJI says, “The Indemnis system is intended to be the core of a parachute-based safety mitigation plan for a waiver, and can also help provide one path forward for advanced operations as the FAA considers how to allow routine flights directly over people.”

“DJI is pleased to have contributed to the development of technologies and standards that will be used to support advanced, higher-risk operations,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs. “As the FAA works to open more of America’s skies to beneficial drone uses, the certification of the Nexus system on DJI’s platform is a significant step toward making flight over people and crowds routine, expanding the scope of vital applications such as search and rescue, newsgathering, and public safety.”

Read more: The UAS Integration Pilot Program is Underway: North Dakota Gets Started with Parazero Parachutes for Drones

“Indemnis has tested our parachute systems in thousands of real-world unplanned failure scenarios, and NUAIR’s validation of our work is an exciting step toward making professional drone operations over people safe, routine and productive,” said Amber McDonald, Indemnis President/CEO. “DJI’s drone platforms are the clear choice of professionals, and our turnkey packages make it easy for DJI customers to propose advanced, higher-risk operations to regulators around the world.”

Read more: Drone Parachutes Provide the Confidence Regulators Need: ParaZero Working With Multiple IPP Teams

How Nexus works

Nexus is a ballistic parachute launcher. It’s designed to trigger automatically if the drone begins to abnormally tilt or fall, as would happen in the case of a loss of power or malfunction. The Nexus system deploys the parachute within 30 milliseconds at 90 mph, through a tube that rapidly inflates to keep the parachute lines away from the drone body and propellers.

Although the system is currently designed to work with the DJI Inspire 2, Indemnis has confirmed plans to offer it for Matrice 200 series and Matrice 600 series drones by late 2019.

NUAIR Alliance, which manages one of the FAA-designated test sites for drone technologies at Griffiss International Airport in Rome, New York, put the Indemnis Nexus through 45 functionality tests across five different failure scenarios last month during four days of testing. DJI, Indemnis, the FAA and other industry stakeholders finalized the ASTM consensus standard late last year.

“The NUAIR Alliance is proud to have been a part of helping Indemnis’ transformative technology enter real-world deployment into the National Airspace System on a leading DJI drone platform,” said retired Air Force Major General Marke “Hoot” Gibson, President and CEO of NUAIR Alliance.

“New York is committed to generating growth, jobs and innovation through smart drone investments, and Indemnis’ successful testing process shows how New York plays a key role in accelerating this exciting technology.”

Malek Murison is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for tech trends and innovation. He handles product reviews, major releases and keeps an eye on the enthusiast market for DroneLife.
Email Malek

Subscribe to DroneLife here.