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News & Notes

New Report from DJI Shows Drones Do Save Lives

Both hobbyists and pros play a lifesaving role

March 14, 2017

At least 59 lives have been saved by civilian drones.
Today, DJI released a report titled “Lives Saved: A Survey of Drones in Action.” The potential of unmanned aerial systems is often debated, but there hasn’t been much hard data about how many lives they have actually saved.

DJI compiled this report, which it said is “the first list of lives saved with assistance from drones,” using real news stories from across the world as data points. These findings only include cases in which it was clear that people in “imminent peril were directly located, assisted, and/or rescued with drones.” It does not include incidents in which drones indirectly helped in the process of saving lives.

The report is based on stories from recent years, including stories about drones finding a missing woman in a field, delivering supplies to trapped workers, and finding lost skiers and snowboarders.

Key takeaways

The study found that at least 59 lives have been saved by civilian drones in 18 different countries, 38 of which were saved within the last 10 months. Based on these numbers, that means drones are saving almost one life a week on average.

And it wasn’t just professionally trained first responders using drones to save people in peril. More than one third of those 59 lives were saved by hobbyists or volunteers ― not professionals ― using their drones to help during a rescue situation.

Drones helped rescuers spot people lost in snowbanks, fields, swamps, and even stranded hikers. More than half of the lives were saved during floods, and in some cases drones actually delivered rescue ropes and life jackets to help bring persons to safety.

Search-and-rescue may soon emerge as the most effective use of drones for lifesaving purposes, according to the report. A collaborative study between DJI and the Donegal Mountain Search and Rescue of Ireland showed that a drone can find a missing person in a one square kilometer area in only 20 minutes — six times faster than a five-person rescue team.
Saving the saviors

Drones also help ensure the safety of first responders by providing situational awareness in a variety of emergencies — like fire response, HAZMAT scenarios, and natural disasters. They also allow responders to make safer, more informed decisions when tackling life-threatening scenarios.

In the report, DJI admits it’s “impossible to document the number of emergency responders who avoid injury thanks to drone technology,” but that the use of drones does offer a new safety precaution for first responders.

For those within the emergency response community, this comes as no surprise. Garret Bryl, a volunteer firefighter and drone operator who has flown drones in support of fire and police departments, explained that this awareness is always his first priority. “Whenever I show up, the very first thing I do is find the incident commander and offer my help to him,” Bryl said.

He went on to say, “Any department that doesn’t have [a drone] is kind of neglecting their duties.”

Strict regulation could cost lives

DJI asserts that blanket restrictions on operations only hurt the lifesaving potential of drone tech. While such regulations are often driven by safety concerns, this report shows that drones have a significant potential to improve public safety.

“Regulations that make it more challenging or burdensome to use drone technology as tools to help save lives represent a net detriment to public safety,” according to the report.

Rather than focusing on blanket restrictions like altitude and night operation limits, DJI urges regulation that focuses on specific safety concerns. And based on the report, DJI views Part 107 as a “much more reasonable path for rescuers … to learn the requirements for safe and responsible flight.”

Based on its research, DJI stated that “rigorous restrictions and impediments to drone use, often proposed in the name of safety, can be expected to cost lives over time.”

The report concludes that "drones are regularly saving lives around the world." However, DJI admits that since its research method excludes the reports in which drones indirectly helped save lives, this report likely underrepresents the number of times drones have actually helped save lives. That’s right, drones have probably helped save far more than 59 people.

Read the full report here.
Featured image: pixabay/skeeze