UT students' drone could help Austin Firefighters

Students develop search and rescue drones

AUSTIN - For two semesters, a group of University of Texas aerospace engineering students has been working with the Austin Fire Department to develop a drone that could help with AFD's search and rescue efforts.

Last week, they tested the technology. The students said they have waited months for the opportunity.

"It's pretty exciting to see our plane perform a mission," Steven Tio said. 

The student's plane is a fixed wing drone that took them more than ten months to build. Its mission is to locate five targets in an open field that represent people in critical condition and drop a care package to the one marked as distressed.
 

A test pilot guided the drone's take off and then the students took over.

"They're using a computer to feed in GPS coordinates to the plane and then the plane uses those GPS coordinates to go through the field and search for potential targets," Tio said. 


"Once we determine it's a critical target, we have to survey that target and see if it's in need of a care package or not."

Firefighter Sara Coon watched closely to see if this technology is something the Austin Fire Department could use.

"The Austin Fire Department does not have any fixed winged aircraft," Coon said. 

If the drone successfully delivers the care package to the distressed target then AFD will consider incorporating the technology into search and rescue missions.

"It's hard for us on the ground to see what's going on," Coon said. "In bad weather, we don't always like to put STAR Flight or a helicopter up so we could throw a smaller device in the air and get a whole lot of aviation."

During the thirty-minute mission, the drone found all five targets in the field, maintained steady surveillance and dropped a care package to the distressed target.

"It makes me feel pretty good because we put a lot of hours into this plane in designing it, building it and all the troubleshooting we've had to do," Coon said. 

A successful idea they hope will make a difference out in the field one day.

(© 2016 KVUE)


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