It was for 12 hours that a 6-year-old autistic child was lost in the Guadarrama mountain range, in Madrid (Spain). Almost 80 kilometres of rocky terrain and the encroaching night added to the inevitable dangers the minor was already exposed to in this ecosystem.
However, the drama – which seemed endless for the child’s relatives – ended in an emotional reunion which was possible thanks to the combination of two forces for good: drones and dogs.
The Madrid Canine Search and Rescue Unit, a Spanish NGO which works with dogs to carry out search and rescue tasks in catastrophic situations, formed an alliance with Dronemadrid to use this technology in the process of attaining their goal of saving lives.
The drones contribution is vital: in the case of the lost child, although the drone didn’t find their exact location, it did cover an extensive territory that could then be excluded and in this way focus the search.
At other times, drones have facilitated a far quicker visual inspection of collapsed structures and guarantee the safety of the animals during the search.
“For example, in a situation where there are collapsed buildings, first, the drone goes to examine the affected area, to look for victims, and to see which parts are more accessible and safer. This helps us avoid injuries and possible accidents the dogs could have. Next, the dog goes, and the drone keeps track of it and in this way they ensure efficiency and the best working environment for the dogs“, Adrián Villar, vice-president of the Madrid Canine Search and Rescue Unit, explained to El Tiempo.
They use DJI Phantom 4 drones, which have intelligent navigation and can make up to 28-minute flights. They also employ octocopters (drones with four rotors), capable of carrying loads (first aid kits and materials). It is these devices that have accompanied dogs on their duties, dogs like Duna – a German Shepherd crossed with a Border Collie, active and specialised for large areas – or like Shyra, an 8-year-old Labrador, the oldest in the group and who, after participating in the majority of missions was recently diagnosed with cancer
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In total, they are about eight animals. They do not belong to any State agency; they are the same pets of the 25 volunteers there are, amongst psychologists, habitual search and rescuers, communications managers, and canine guides.
The dogs are trained from a very young age so that they get used to different noises and environments. “They are taught to work in noisy and dark environments where they can only be guided by their sense of smell. The point of all this is so that they can cope with the intense noise of a helicopter, a siren or a drone”, says Villar.
“At first, they look at the drone one, two, three times but then they assimilate the sound, isolate out all the other distractions around them and search for the scent and the person who is in danger”, adds David Sánchez, president of the organisation.
The task is made even easier thanks to the inclusion of thermal cameras that facilitate the use of drones at night, and which through a range of colours help to distinguish hot spots and cold spots to determine where the people may be. “The human body is a hotspot that appears on the thermal camera” is the definition provided by Villar.
Ignacio Espinosa, from Dronemadrid, highlights the importance of other technological tools in the process, “The dogs use GPS collars and if the drone loses visual contact, they can be located through the GPS device.”
The work these animals do involves long working hours, tough days of training and drills of all kinds. However, the love, dedication, and patience their owners show them are vital to making the most of these talents only they have and help them to accomplish their objective of helping others – a mission on which unmanned vehicle technology is now playing a part, too.
ANA MARÍA VELÁSQUEZ DURÁN
Tecnósfera Editorial staff