In another novel drone application the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has sought a £1 million trial of drone technology which will help to search for people lost at sea while cracking down on pollution from ships.
The MCA has invited specialists to bid for a £990,000 contract before a deadline of 19 August and aims to use drones for assistance in emergency rescue operations and carrying out surveillance of ships off the south-west coast of England. The MCA hopes that the unmanned aircraft might help it cut costs which are incurred in deploying helicopters to carry out surveillance work for rescue operations.
Specifics of the requirements are: Interested parties have to detail their ability to search for a reported missing person or vessel up to 6.2 miles (10km) away from shore in low-light, misty and/or windy conditions.
The idea would be to transmit reconnaissance information to be then used by helicopter or lifeboat rescue crews. The MCA however does acknowledge that for regular drone flights beyond an operator’s line-of-sight involved in search operations the rules would have to be eased. It added that the contract would be awarded in October with the trial due to last until autumn 2020.
Additionally, the tender document outlines other potential uses for the drones which include tracking the amount of pollution that vessels are leaking into the water, and providing support to law enforcement and other agencies that track activity in and around the English Channel from the sky.
The MCA expects the drone missions to be human-controlled initially, but harbours the aspiration that at least some of the activities could be automated in the long term. According to the MCA a network of small unmanned devices will eventually be stationed on the coastline to work as a rapid response unit to helicopters and other rescue crew.
Coastguard wanting drones to find people lost at sea is not the first time that the MCA has explored the use of drones: just last year it teamed up with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution during a five-day exercise at St Athan, south Wales, where a simulation involved the use of the aircraft in rescuing people from the sea and dealing with a mud rescue. The MCA has also successfully completed a year-long trial partnering with a police drone unit – the exercise started in May around Essex’s coastline.
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