The Rega drone can autonomously scan large search areas and is equipped with various sensors, such as a thermal camera. The Rega drone is to be deployed on missions to search for missing, injured or ill persons to supplement the conventional resources – for example, if the helicopter has to remain on the ground due to poor visibility. As a result, in future, Rega will have at its disposal an additional device to help it search for people in distress.
"In certain cases, the drone will be a useful supplementary aid, but it will never completely replace the Rega helicopter and its crew. If the search for an ill or injured person proves successful, a Rega helicopter or other form of rescue will still be needed to recover the person or fly medical assistance to the site of the incident."
Sascha Hardegger, Head of Helicopter Operations and project leader
Thanks to two high-precision, redundant GNSS receivers enabling satellite navigation, the Rega drone flies autonomously on a predefined route with an accuracy to the metre. It follows the topography of the terrain at an altitude of around 80–100 metres above ground level. In addition, a ground radar is built into the drone in order to reliably measure its height above the ground.
The signals from the infrared and daylight cameras are categorised with the aid of a self-learning algorithm, which is being developed in collaboration with the ETH Zurich. The image areas in which, based on the pixel pattern, the algorithm "presumes" a person is located are relayed to the operator on the ground, who then examines this footage manually.
Rega is also working on being able to track mobile phones using the drone system. This method is already being used in the Rega helicopter to search for missing persons on behalf of the police. However, the devices deployed in the helicopters are not suitable for the drone, so Rega has specified the necessary modifications – in particular in terms of weight and search tactics – and, together with a manufacturer, initiated the development of a device that is suitable for use with drones. The prototype is currently being trialled in liaison with the police. This feature enables the Rega drone to locate a mobile phone from a distance of several hundred metres and thus most probably also find its owner.