In The Netherlands, a pilot project under the name “Safe coastal, beach and dune tourism” is launched in the province Noord-Holland to study how drones can be used to locate rip currents and keep swimmers safe. The project is an initiative of the Maritime Emerging Technologies Innovation Park Noord-Holland (METIP), in collaboration with DroneQ Aerial Services and the Rescue Brigade Den Helder. The project is made possible by the Region Deal Maritime Cluster Kop van Noord-Holland.
Dutch coastguard uses drones to keep swimmers safe
Every year there are several drownings in the Netherlands due to rip currents in the North Sea. The dangerous currents occur near sandbars. As a result of receding seawater at low tide, strong currents are created, which, in combination with offshore wind, can cause dangerous situations. Many inexperienced swimmers have found themselves in perilous situations because of these rip currents and over recent years, there has been a significant number of people who drowned.
The Dutch Coastguard is therefore very keen to be able to better respond to rip currents. Drones may play an important role in this. They are expected to be able to recognize a rip current from the air at an early stage and sound the alarm if a potentially dangerous situation occurs. Drones can also be used to locate drowning people and even throw off life jackets.
Detect rip currents
To realize this, the Rescue Brigade Den Helder will be carrying out a pilot project from the beginning of May. The driving force behind this initiative is METIP, a partnership that demonstrated on Texel how a drone can track a drowning person last year. This demonstration will now be followed up in the form of a number of test flights that will be carried out next week together with the Rescue Brigade. DroneQ is involved in the project as a drone operator.
“During the tests, we will first photograph a number of rip currents. First, only the currents, later also with a test subject and floating objects in such a stream. We will then analyze this data together. We want to be able to automatically recognize rip currents using machine learning and artificial intelligence. In this way, the Rescue Brigade can take proactive measures as soon as a dangerous situation develops, ”explains John Troch of DroneQ.
Locate swimmers in need
Recognizing rip currents is one pillar of the project. A second pillar will be the use of drones to locate swimmers in need.
“The Rescue Brigade often receives a report without concrete indications as to the position of the person in distress. Precious minutes are lost through the search process. A drone can speed up this process,” according to an official
A third step involves a drone throwing off life-saving equipment, such as a life jacket or flotation device. This allows a person to stay afloat, at least until the rescue workers are able to reach them. DroneQ has developed an add-on for this purpose that can be used to throw a flotation device from a distance.
Initially, ten test flights will be conducted. With the input that this generates, METIP will draw up a project plan, in which it is further elaborated how drones can be integrated into the work processes of the Rescue Brigade.
“I can well imagine that the Rescue Brigade itself will become a drone operator over time, and that METIP will facilitate them by providing training, for example,” says Troch.
To promote knowledge sharing, all Rescue Brigades in the region will be involved in the project and the project findings will be made available to first aid services.
Can drones keep swimmers safe?
The test flights will initially be performed with a DJI M300 multirotor drone. At a later stage, it will be examined whether the Autel Dragonfish can be used for this purpose. This concerns a VTOL fixed-wing drone with a flight range of tens of kilometers. As a result, the entire Dutch coast could be served with a limited number of drones.
“But flying out of sight of the pilot – BVLOS – is unfortunately still not allowed in the Netherlands. That is why we initially stick to EVLOS ”, explains Troch.
In addition to recognizing dangerous rip currents from the air and locating drowning people, a number of additional applications may be researched as well, namely the detection of dune fires, surveillance for undesired entry into protected dune areas, and counting flora or fauna. In this case, however, the flight must be above Natura 2000 area. In that respect, DroneQ says it has an advantage, due to experience gained with drone assignments above the Veluwe and other nature reserves. In any case, any flights over dune areas are coordinated with the relevant nature reserve managers.
What will the future look like?
Troch: “I expect that in a few years’ time there will be a number of regional drone command centers, spread over strategic places in the Netherlands. From there, all kinds of operations can be initiated and supervised, varying from inspections to drone deliveries and rescue missions. The drones then fly autonomously, there really is no drone pilot involved. Because autonomy is an important element for economic feasibility and for achieving an acceptable level of safety.”
METIP is part of the Region Deal Maritime Cluster Kop van Noord-Holland for innovation and technology application of so-called “emerging technologies”. The program sets up a cluster where companies, entrepreneurs, start-ups, knowledge and training institutions, civil society organizations, citizens and government work together on innovation to strengthen the maritime, marine and offshore (energy) sector. METIP is developing as an independent organization.
For innovations in technology or application, the program offers access to facilities and facilities, such as support with business & market development, information about and support in finding funding and subsidies, flying locations for test flights with drones, indoor test and flying location for drones, mobile outdoor field labs for command centers.
The realization of a recognized drone port in Den Helder with assets for flying, testing, training and education and a specific drone corridor to the North Sea is explicitly mentioned in the Regional Deal. METIP is open to any company that wants to create new business in the Kop van Noord-Holland in “emerging technologies” in partnership with a high-quality and inventive ecosystem.
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