When a Category 5 hurricane drills into a densely populated coastline, or a mudslide buries a remote village, one of the hardest tasks of search-and-rescue crews is simply getting to the site of the disaster. Drones offer an effective combination of maneuverability and high-tech imaging to locate survivors in the most extreme disaster conditions.
A lightweight search-and-rescue drone equipped with a thermal imaging camera can fly low over a disaster site scanning the wreckage for signs of life. Rescue workers can save valuable time by focusing on known survivors instead of randomly digging through debris in the remote chance of finding life.
A funky-looking search-and-rescue drone prototype called the GimBall took home the $1 million grand prize at the 2015 "Drones for Good" competition in the United Arab Emirates. The small, two-prop drone is surrounded by a collapsible geodesic cage. The flexible exoskeleton allows the drone to squeeze into tight spaces and bounce off fallen debris without sustaining damage. The carbon-fiber cage also protects survivors from the drone's whirling turbines [source: Dent].
Camera-equipped drones are also becoming powerful tools for search operations in remote locations, such as lost hikers or missing children. A fleet of remote-control drones is far less expensive and difficult to organize than a hundred-person search party, and drones can fly in subfreezing temperatures and blazing heat.