as the humanitarian mission on the Maldives, it had become
evident to me that the DJI SDK platform was the key to
providing some helpful solutions. I also realized that, while
urban environments provide online access, these particular
search-and-rescue scenarios oftentimes are in very remote
locations with a strong likelihood of no connectivity. And since
you need some dataset quick, solutions need to be developed
to deal with those limitations.
While Team 2 was reviewing the just-created mosaic
of the search area, Team 1 was already out looking for the
missing person. These mountaineers know their mountains
and, over the years, have developed a very successful tactical
approach. Without going into too much detail, there are areas
with a higher probability where that missing person could
be: areas around paths and climbing routes, cliff areas, and
next to protection-giving areas, like huge boulders. There are
additional possibilities, and from years of experience, the team
there split up into subgroups to cover some of these areas of
higher likelihood. Team 1 ended up finding the missing person
in remarkable time.
Team 2 now had an edge over Team 1 as they were able to
review the search area, looking for conditions of paths, ice,
and snow. They were also looking for any signs that could help
them with information. The information learned from this prior
review led the team to adjust their original plan and ultimately
made them execute the search in a more strategic way. The
time it took to locate the individual was also remarkable and
was comparable with Team 1. The big difference was that
Team 2 had more information and was able to choose a more
suitable and safer approach for the team.
It was now Team 3’s turn, and they were able to utilize the
drone during their search-and-rescue mission as if the drone
were an additional member—an additional set of eyes, just at a
The way we designed this specific test was to pair the
team with an experienced operator but somebody who had
no search-and-rescue experience. While the aerial view
provided an incredible amount of information to the ground
team, the challenge was in communicating that information
to the ground team. While Team 3 also found the individual in
a solid amount of time, they had the additional challenge of
All the information learned was interesting and helpful, and
we were curious to see if a second scenario would provide us
with similar experiences.
One of the other test scenarios was conducted at lower
altitude and in a forested area at about 1,600m ( 5,200 feet).
The tactical approach dramatically changes depending on the
search area and environment. A forest introduces additional
and different challenges just as a mountaintop or glacier does,
especially if the forest is on a mountain slope.
For that particular test, we replaced the Phantom 4 with
the Inspire 1 and the DJI/FLIR X T thermal camera with a
7.5mm lens. Again, Team 1 had no additional help, Team 2 got
to see a 2D mosaic map of the search area, and Team 3 got
to use the drone with thermal view during their search-and-rescue mission.
The experiences we had gathered from previous projects
using the thermal camera are that settings are key. Standard
settings provide, in essence, a data overload. Depending on
the project, you may only be interested in a specific dataset
(e.g., temperature range). If you’re looking for a human body,
for example, you may only be interested in the 35–39°C
(95–102°F) range. Anything outside of that may not be of
interest and could be more of a visual distraction. So we set
up the isotherm settings of the camera to look for those
The DJI Phantom 4 about to fly a DroneDeploy mapping mission over the Adamello Glacier.
The mapping area over parts of the Adamello Glacier.
Mosaic of one of the search areas.