Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No… It’s a drone! Don’t you know what a drone is? Maybe at some time or other you will have seen one of them flying overhead while it was recording a video, taking photos or was on its way to a rescue. And why? Because this device which looks like a miniature helicopter allows you to record and photograph, and is a sure bet for military defence.
Drones were created for intelligence tasks years ago, although it is only really now that they are gaining a foothold worldwide due to their application in situations which are basically rescue, searching for missing people, photogrammetry, fire control and prevention, as well as aerial cartography, photography and video. These platforms are able to fly with a payload (camera, radar, infrared camera…) and this payload is what does the actual work required.
The work order is normally carried out in the following manner: a drone manufacturing company sells the technology to those who work with payloads, and together they reach an agreement to make the duties of the National Police, the Civil Guard, fire services or the military much easier.
The UCRS Madrid NGO’s lifesaver
As defined in the RAE (the Spanish language and dictionary organisation): “unmanned aircraft”, but for the volunteers who work in the Madrid Canine Search and Rescue Unit (UCRS Madrid) it is much more: “It is a way of saving lives.”
The president of UCRS Madrid decided to start working with this technology and in order to do so contacted Dronemadrid, a collaborative project and working together were suggested alongside the idea of extending and improving the efficiency of rescue situations.
That’s how it all began. “From that moment onwards, a collaborative effort in R&D began to be developed between both parties whose results are already being applied to real searches employing drones and there’s even a thermal camera installed on one of them.” explains Adrián Villar, vice-president of the UCRS Madrid and a dog trainer and handler.
The objective of UCRS Madrid is clear: Help those who need it.
This NGO – composed of a wide diversity of people, from healthcare professionals and state security professionals to volunteers whose occupations are unrelated to search and rescue – has one clear objective: Helping those in need. In order to accomplish this, the efforts and good work done by the professionals who make up this organisation are complemented by drones.
They have drones such as multirotor quadcopters (with four arms), capable of capturing the first visualisation of a terrain of a collapsed structure; and the Drone Octocopter, which can lift up to a 4kg payload (first aid kit, defilibrator, blankets, even food) and whose intended purpose is to get first response materials to inaccessible areas or just helping to gain invaluable time in critical situations. “We have adapted the devices according to the needs of the diverse State security forces; thermal and infrared cameras to locate victims and precision laser pointers”, states Ignacio Espinosa, Dronemadrid manager and pilot.
“It’s not just flying, we also analyse the captured data and images in real time or via the PMA (advanced control post)”, Ignacio Espinosa points out.
In the UCRS it is usually said that drones save lives and to make them work more efficiently applications are continually being developed and studied. The current duties they carry out are mainly search and support in vast tracts of land and collapsed structures to find people. Ignacio Espinosa emphasises, “Besides all of this, we are regulated by the current legislation, which is highly restrictive and only allows us to act when one of the national agencies requires us to.”
The UCRS Madrid has a commercial response time and in less than four hours they can reach any point wherever they are needed. “We are not dependent on anybody, we take a commercial flight and get going,” points out Santiago, who handles press liasion for the unit.
Military drone use
In the same was as fighter jets, drones are vital to the Air Force and are used in surveillance and espionage tasks. On Saturday, a North American drone killed the Taliban leader in Pakistan, for example.
The Spanish army’s latest acquisition is the MQ-9 Reaper: a drone it is hoped will be active by the year-end since the crisis that has afflicted Spain since 2008 has also impacted the military sphere, and a tight budget is holding back the buying of drones. As a consequence, the Reaper will not form part of the team till then, according to military sources.
The short-term future goals are what are already being done in countries like England or Italy, where they are working with surveillance drones and it is the soldier, from the army base itself, who observes what the drone is seeing without putting a single life at risk; what’s more, the cose is far lower.
Drones in the civil sector
The use of unmanned aircraft is not only the domain of Defence, to the contrary, it goes much further indeed. The most interesting applications are those related to the world of the image but there is a certain trend towards the business of courier services, and where the market for drones may truly boom will be when telecommunications solutions are engineered to substitute satellites. According to the website of the technology-based company, Intelligenia Dynamics, drones are vital in a multitude of areas and situations because they can move very quickly over any terrain whilst offering birds-eye view images.
They are used in the environment to control the pollution index, to subsequently be used to draw up maps of light pollution and to monitor the efficiency of eco-energetic measures.
Drones can move quickly over any terrain, offering birds-eye view images. There is a place for them in agriculture since they monitor the state of the crops through multispectral images, control the irrigation and are also used, for example, to count the number of trees in an area.
As for geology, this technology is used to draw up sedimentological, geological, mineralogical and geophysical maps and the monitoring of mining operations as well as their environmental impact. They serve to see if there have been earthworks, aggregate production, metal waste, runoff reservoirs, etc.
During the coldest months these aircraft are put into action to determine the relative humidity, the temperature and the snow depth. Drones are also useful when it comes to assessing the visual impact of a site, just as they are to ascertain how many people attended a demonstration or a mega-concert.
They also show up in aerial crime scene investigations, at traffic accidents, and are extremely useful when it coms to exploring inaccessible or confined spaces, such as caves.
The DGT (DVLA equivalent) is working on a drone that will monitor and control the traffic in the coming months. Something far cheaper than a helicopter and able to detect breakdowns, read license plates, record and even fine if they are equipped with a radar.
The growth is exponential in Spain
On the official AESA page, the AESA director, Isabel Maestre, highlights the growth this sector has experienced in Spain in the first 20 months of the legislation coming into effect, with 1,249 operators and 2,241 drones registered with the agency.
Likewise, Maestre illustrates that the European Comission estimates that in 10 years these unmanned vehicles will make up 10% of the aviation sector. As a consequence, Spain is seeing exponential growth thanks to the coming into force of the standards that regulate this type of remote-control aircraft and which has allowed the development of this emerging cutting-edge technological sector in conditions of safety.