As the US continues to grapple with the idea of letting drones fly through the country's airspace, our neighbors to the north have reported a new milestone for unmanned aerial technology: the first life saved using a drone. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the province of Saskatchewan announced yesterday that they successfully used the small Draganflyer X4-ES helicopter drone to locate and treat an injured man whose car had flipped over in a remote, wooded area in near-freezing temperatures. Zenon Dragan, president and founder of the Draganfly company that makes the drone, said in a statement: "to our knowledge, this is the first time that a life may have been saved with the use of a sUAS (small Unmanned Aerial System) helicopter."
"this is the first time that a life may have been saved" by an unmanned helicopter
The injured driver, whose name has not been released, managed to call 911 from his mobile phone, but he didn't know his location and couldn't guide emergency responders to him. Police deployed a regular, manned helicopter equipped with night vision to try and find him, but they weren't able to in an initial sweep of the area. After several hours without any sign of the accident victim, they decided to try a Draganflyer drone with an infrared camera, flying it toward the last recorded location from his cell phone's GPS. Check out video of the harrowing rescue from the RCMP below:
The drone's infrared camera picked up three heat signatures, one of which turned out to be the man, who was "curled up in a ball at the base of a tree next to snow bank" and unresponsive, as the RCMP recounts in its official news release. Emergency responders took him to a hospital for treatment. "Without the UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] and FLIR [infrared camera], searchers would not have been able to locate the driver until daylight," the RCMP news release adds.
While a handful of other police agencies in Canada and the US have previously admitted to using drones in search-and-rescue operations, there haven't been any reports of these operations finding an injured person in time to get them medical attention. The first "drone arrest" was claimed by police in the UK in 2010.