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A new vision for search and rescue in Wales

Case study – University of Leicester uses algorithms, research and data analysis to help TrailMed to develop new drone technology for search and rescue operations

How TrailMed and the University of Leicester have collaboratively focused on the deployment of drones to boost the effectiveness of search and rescue operations in the Brecon Beacons

A new vision for search and rescue in Wales

TrailMed is an R&D active SME bringing medical services to sporting and cultural events as well as providing support to emergency services in remote areas.

TrailMed’s medical service consists of dedicated professional clinical practitioners and support staff. The company provides safe and effective event medical care, general health clinics and Cardiopulmonary Exercise Testing for both health and performance screening.

Exploring opportunities with drone technology

One particular area of interest for TrailMed is using technology to increase the effectiveness of search and rescue operations. This concept was identified following an event in the Brecon Beacons where TrailMed was providing medical support and was filming with drones.

The idea focused on using range detection to identify people in need of help and send remotely-controlled drones to those locations to improve the speed of response for emergency services.

Now, working closely with Brecon Mountain Rescue, TrailMed, with the University of Leicester, is developing a fleet of drones with enhanced search and rescue capabilities. The solution aims to maximise the effectiveness of the rescue team’s resources for emergency call-outs.

This is achieved by improving speed of response with the deployment of air support, the establishment of enhanced communication links and use of novel imaging technology. This boosts Brecon Mountain Rescue’s ability to rapidly locate and assess people for medical treatment, and allows it to prioritise cases in multiple call-out scenarios.

SPRINT supports next stage of development

TrailMed has also signed up to the SPRINT programme to continue working with the University of Leicester, focusing on two elements of the project:

  • addressing the challenges of communicating information between the drone and emergency services/medical teams in hilly and remote terrain
  • maintaining antenna alignment between drones, and between drones and ground stations, using onboard software to adapt both flight paths and drone orientation to maximise communication distances

The project is also considering the most effective ways to strengthen the range of satellite Internet, increase communications range by the deployment of relay drones to communicate via radio signals, connect the relay and search drones with directional wifi antenna, and increase cellular coverage to reduce reliance on satellite Internet.

“Excellent pathway”

Dr Patrick Musto, co-founder and Medical Director of TrailMed says: “The industry is building but commercial technology to address this challenge simply doesn’t exist yet. Working with the University of Leicester has proved to be an excellent pathway to translate our initial concepts into viable and innovative technical solutions.

“Access to SME innovation support initiatives, such as the Leicester Innovation Hub vouchers, funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the SPRINT scheme, funded by Research England, enabled and strengthened our collaboration, while leveraging the costs associated with access to University talents.”

Dr Michael Hoffmann, Lecturer in the Department of Informatics, University of Leicester adds: The expertise from the University of Leicester comes from research in the area of algorithms. It is a very good example of where strategies formulated on abstract and theoretical models can then be applied to practical real life problems.

“The key to this particular project is finding people quicker. To enable this as an outcome and maximise the efficiency of the project, the University of Leicester brings real precision to the analysis of data. We look at where the information is needed and deploy that in the most strategic way to make fully-informed decisions.

“Although my particular research expertise is algorithms, we’re also providing capabilities for research, software development and human-computer interaction with medical situations. As the project develops in the future, there is also potential for autonomous system testing and image recognition.”

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