Challenge to find drones for emergency comms

Tuesday, 06 July, 2021

Challenge to find drones for emergency comms

NIST Public Safety Communications Research Program launched a three-stage challenge back in January 2018, with prize awards up to US$432,000 for the top 10 designs. The challenge was designed by the US National Institute for Standards and Technology to support field operations for first responders.

It is widely known that unmanned aerial systems (UASs, commonly known as drones) are useful in search and rescue. One of the barriers for UASs used in a public safety realm is payload versus flight time. The ability for vertical take-off and landing provides many different mission capabilities, but the flight time is limited.

It is hoped that a hovering drone over an emergency zone can provide Wi-Fi communications for the S&R and medical teams. The final stage of the contest included three teams competing for a prize of US$50,000.

Each team demonstrated their abilities based on the UAS safety checks, safety flights, positioning and accuracy tests, and payload flights. Each team’s UAS was required to lift a 10-, 15- and 20-pound payload and hover in place for the longest time possible.

The drones need to be deployed from their storage container and made operational within 20 minutes. They also had to demonstrate level 2 autonomy, be capable of executing pre-programmed flight paths and avoid obstacles without intervention from a pilot. The longest flight time achieved hovering in position stood at 112 minutes. Out of an original 10 teams, Team DV8 accumulated the required 270 points to be eligible for the award.

Additionally, at a cost of less than $20K per UAS, this challenge shows first responders that there may someday be an affordable drone in their toolkit to carry wireless networks for search and rescue operations.

Image credit: ©

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