A test in which a rescue drone was controlled over a 5G connection has been successful. The pilot flight took place off the coast of Scheveningen on Tuesday. The ultimate goal is to have the rescue drone independently detect drowning people. To this end, special algorithms are trained to detect swimmers in need. KPN, TNO, KNRM, Delft Dynamics and Skytools were involved in the test flight.

Recognizing drowning

This article is brought to you by Skytools

Last year alone, the rescuers of the KNRM rescue station at Scheveningen had to act 220 times to help people in need, 60 times more than in the previous year. However, the growth in the number of rescue operations is a considerable burden on the volunteers of the rescue organization. For this reason, the conditions under which drones can be deployed, in addition to the boats and helicopters of the Coast Guard.

One of the scenarios that is currently being investigated in the partnership Test Tuin op the North Sea is to allow drones to recognize drowning people early. Drones, for example, could regularly take a flight along the coast. As soon as a swimmer is detected in need, the Coast Guard automatically receives an emergency signal, so that one can then respond to the situation in a targeted manner. It is also conceivable that a drone throws off a float at a swimmer in need, something that was already demonstrated last year during a test on Texel.

In order to enable surveillance above sea, the drone must not only be able to automatically recognize a drowning person, but can also be operated over longer distances. This includes image recognition based on AI and data communication over 5G. However, this technology must be tested in practice. That was the goal of this demonstration day.

Drone with 5G module

The DJI M300 RTK type drone with Zenmuse H20T zoom camera+thermal imager was provided by Skytools. Skytools also integrated the 5G module and the FlytNow software with which the drone is controlled and monitored via a mobile data connection. “There was a lot of work to get the software up and running in combination with the M300. We have close contact with the developers to this end,” says Herman Vulkers, business developer at Skytools.

Basically, thanks to a 5G connection and the FlytNow software, the drone can fly at a long distance from the pilot, even far out of sight. Vulkers: “Now such BFLOS flights are still problematic in terms of regulation, but our hope is that this will improve with the further implementation of European regulations. An advantage of 5G is that the wireless communication between drone and operator can take precedence over the mobile traffic of the tens of thousands of bathers who are there on a nice beach day.”

Image processing and mission support

TNO is engaged for the analysis of the live images from the drone. This organization is working on algorithms that can automatically notice a swimmer in need. The data collected during the demonstration will be used by TNO to further train the algorithms. Ultimately, the intention is that the algorithms are linked to the live stream from the drone.

To control and monitor the operation, a special Drone Command Vehicle was used, also made available by Skytools. It contains all equipment to support complex drone missions, including computers and monitors, a generator, radio equipment to communicate with other parties and the necessary charging systems.

As a base station for the drone, a pickup truck converted by Delft Dynamics was used. This is equipped with a roller shutter and a scissor lift with a plateau, from which the drone can take off and land. In the future, such a system can be processed in a box at a rescue station, so that a drone can take action at any time.