Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it’s a lifeguard drone at Spanish Point

4 Jul 2017

A drone pictured outside the lifeguard hut at Spanish Point. Image: Clare County Council

Clare officials have recruited a drone to help search-and-rescue operations along the coast, with lifeguarding now taking to the skies.

One of the most obvious areas for robotics and drone technology to exploit is search, rescue and disaster relief.

So it should come as no surprise that Irish start-up DroneSAR has teamed up with Clare County Council to boost its lifeguarding operations.

Home to some of Ireland’s most iconic coastlines, and attracting significant numbers of tourists, surfers and swimmers to its shores, Clare’s lifeguarding requirements are extensive.

The council has decided to pilot a new trial at Spanish Point beach with one of Ireland’s more exciting start-ups.

Based in Dublin, DroneSAR’s software enables autonomous search flight patterns for drones and can live-stream high-resolution images and video back to incident control.

The location of the person or persons in distress can also be identified with GPS coordinates, and shared instantaneously with search-and-rescue (SAR) teams on the ground via SMS or email.

Essentially, larger areas can be monitored in a shorter period of time. According to the council, a recent study in Sweden showed that it took a 14-strong lifeguard team an average of four minutes and 34 seconds to search and locate a manikin in an area of 100 square metres. The drone team, comprising one pilot and lifeguard, took an average of 47 seconds to search the same area.

“Our lifeguards are tasked with quick response times and do so over large distances,” said Clare McGrath, water safety development officer at the council.

“Any piece of equipment that will allow a quicker dispatch time for ambulances, medical assistance and increased beach patrols will be a huge advantage.”

A former Start-up of the Week, DroneSAR will essentially equip lifeguards at Spanish Point with drones and key software.

A live video downlink will enable the search pattern of each drone to be monitored by the lifeguard from their hut. The water safety development officer can use the live browser secure link to remotely monitor search progress from any computer or laptop.

Oisin McGrath, DroneSAR CEO, said: “Lifeguard teams using [our technology] will now be able to monitor live footage from the furthest reaches of their patrol areas, with instant access to call emergency services should the need arise.

“Drones can now be viewed as airborne lifeguards who cover large amounts of ground quickly and easily. As a past beach lifeguard, I am extremely excited about the endless possibilities that these trials will bring to the world of beach patrols.”

DroneSAR has had a fine 2017 so far, becoming the first to enter a new European Space Agency (ESA) incubator in Ireland in May.

By becoming a client of the ESA BIC, DroneSAR will gain access to €50,000 in funding and support over the next two years from a number of Irish academic centres and Enterprise Ireland.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic