Drone Rescues Help Show It’s Time to Let Revolutionary Aircraft Soar
In what may be a world first, Australian lifeguards last week used a drone aircraft to rescue two young swimmers trapped in dangerous swells half a mile offshore. The rescue came as lifeguards were testing the new drone.
When the lifeguard operating the drone received word of swimmers in peril, he piloted the drone to their location and dropped a “rescue pod” to them. The pod inflated when it hit the water, allowing the swimmers to get safely back to the beach.
Perhaps the only thing more extraordinary than the rescue itself—executed in just 70 seconds, besting human lifeguards by critical minutes—was that the drone apparently was unveiled to the public only that morning.
Not bad for a first day on the job.
For years, analysts and advocates have talked about the revolutionary potential of drones—a potential that extends far beyond the current popular fixations on hobby flying and package delivery. The past few months have borne them out, as operators put drones to increasingly complex and vital tasks.
After Hurricane Harvey unleashed historic flooding on Houston last year, the Federal Aviation Administration issued 137 authorizations for drones to operate in the disaster area. It did so again when Florida was wracked by Hurricane Irma and Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria.
In the midst of these tragedies, drones ably demonstrated their value. Officials used them to execute search and rescue missions, locating people trapped and lacking supplies. They sent drones into areas otherwise inaccessible, to help accurately map disaster areas and survey damage to roads, bridges, and the electric grid.
Private companies and utility operators used drones to survey their own equipment, helping to prioritize repairs necessary to restore critical services.
Cellular service providers found great uses for drones as well, and not only to inspect cell towers for damage. In Puerto Rico, cellular service sites were wiped out across large swaths of the island. AT&T responded by using a drone it dubbed the “Flying COW,” or Cell on Wings, to replace lost equipment temporarily and restore service. Drawing power from a ground tether, the COW hovers 200 feet in the air and services a 40-square-mile area.