University of Portsmouth joins major search and rescue drill testing drones in Mozambique

EXPERTS from the University of Portsmouth have been part of an international trial testing the use of drones to help in search and rescue missions following natural disasters.

A team from the city university took part in the experiment in Mozambique, which was run by the United Nation’s world food programme and UK Institute of Search and Technical Rescue.

Led by Professor Richard Teeuw, the university crew worked alongside teams from Mozambique, Canada, South Africa and Portugal, as well as Britain’s own international search and rescue team.

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The participants in the Mozambique wide-area search experiment; UoP drone pilot, Toby Meredith, is standing front-right. (photo credit: Patrick McKay, UN WFP)

The experiment – the largest of its kind – involved a variety of aerial drones all hunting for targets on land and in water, ranging from wounded people and destroyed routes, to other natural threats like crocodiles near flooded areas.

To help rescue teams paint a picture of what the drones were capturing, the Portsmouth team fed in data from a range of satellites orbiting the earth - including from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 radar satellite.

Meanwhile, the university’s global Earth model group provided expertise in coding and analytics to produce a prototype app for faster interpretation of drone images, helping speed up the time it takes to find people in need of assistance following a disaster.

Prof Teeuw, of the university’s centre for applied geosciences, praised the team for its work and added: ‘This was one of the largest experiments ever conducted into the effectiveness of drones for wide-area searches.’

Drone photo of a crocodiles – a local hazard. Photo: Patrick McKay, UN WFP

Toby Meredith, from the university’s faculty of creative and cultural industries, provided support for the drone experiment and the onsite World Food Programme media communications office. He said: ‘Due to the size of the experiment, the logistics of deploying multiple drones was very complex. The university team played a key role in the drone deployment and processing of the ensuing aerial photos, for over 30 drone flights.’

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