Thanks to a newly developed UAV from Lockheed Martin, finding people who have gone missing is set to become easier, quicker, and less expensive.
The defense contractor is teaming up with nonprofit Project Lifesaver to create a version of its quadcopter Indago UAV that will help locate people with cognitive disabilities or diseases that make them prone to wandering.
Project Lifesaver was established in 1999 to equip people with with autism, Alzheimer’s, Down’s syndrome, and other mental issues, with a personal transmitter worn on the ankle or wrist. If the person goes missing, emergency services can track the signal, using equipment and training provided by the nonprofit. This setup has helped find nearly 3,000 people, with an average time of 30 minutes per recovery.
The nonprofit’s main shortcoming is that you have to be within a mile and a half of the signal to pick it up. That’s where the Indago comes in: Packing a specialized antenna produced by Canadian firm Loen Engineering, it acts as an airborne relay and expands that range to seven miles. Since most “wanderers” are found within a few miles from wherever they left, that makes a big difference.
“Project Lifesaver, for a number of years, has been desiring and wishing and dreaming about having this type of capability,” founder and CEO Gene Saunders says.
The UAV is remote controlled and can be operated from up to three miles away. It can stay aloft for about 50 minutes, and while it usually flies at around 400 feet, it can reach as high as 18,000 feet, helpful in mountainous terrain. It weighs just five pounds, fits in a small backpack when folded, and can be deployed in about two minutes.
It’s already being used in commercial and military applications, and can carry a camera to help locate people (who aren’t wearing tracking devices) in natural disaster relief efforts. It’s being tested to help locate wildfire, which can then be battled with Lockheed’s autonomous K-Max helicopter. “It provides an eye in the sky,” says Lockheed General Manager Dave Pringle.
Since partnering with Project Lifesaver in October 2014, Lockheed has finished integrating the special antenna into the quadcopter. It’s aiming to have this version of the Indago ready by mid-summer, then get FAA approval and start sales by the end by Q3. It hasn’t decided on pricing for this setup yet, but says it plans to offer the unit to the nonprofit at a reduced rate.
Once it’s ready, the folks at the defense contractor will train Project Lifesaver on how to use the UAV, who will in turn train their clients, including first responders around the country. And if all goes according to plan, by the end of 2015 finding missing loved ones will be a way easier process.