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Innovative approach to search and rescue recognised in national awards

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Every year Patterdale Mountain Rescue assists hundreds of injured and missing persons from around the Ullswater area in the North of the Lake District. The average search takes several hours and can require a large team of volunteers to set out in often poor weather conditions.

Patterdale contacted the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) to see whether unmanned aerial vehicles - UAV (or ‘drone’) technology could be utilised to make the search and rescue process more efficient. 

The support provided

While drones could be used to scour an area quickly, taking digital images and sending these back to the team on the ground, this was only half the challenge. A team of people would then be required to review the images and actually find a missing person.

Working with colleagues from the Media Innovation Studio (MISt), the UCLan team came up with the idea of using a dedicated website and social media channels to try to find a missing person using ‘crowdsourcing’.

The team recruited 350 people from 25 countries (including the US, Africa and Europe) as ‘virtual’ mountain rescue search assistants. – joining the live search and rescue trial operation from their desktop computers, tablet devices and mobiles. 


The test saw 335 people collaborate to find the 'missing hiker'. It took them 69 seconds. Over the course of the next two years, the research team, working with key partners across a number of international sites, will continue to examine the opportunities for UAV technology to provide a useful and relevant public service.

The design was also named by the DesignMuseum as one of the top designs of 2013 being showcased at an exhibition alongside 80 design concepts spanning categories such as architecture, product, fashion, furniture, graphics, digital and transport.

Dr Darren Ansell, Space and Engineering Lead in the School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences at UCLan, said: “The design for the aeroSee system - combining the flying vehicle with the power of an online community - proved to be a really effective and elegant solution.

“It has the potential to support a lot of civic duties in the future, such as supporting more search and rescue teams, assisting the fire services and helping with wildlife conservation. At UCLan we are proud to be nominated for this design award and excited about the potential for aeroSee."


“Drones may turn out to be a useful addition to our toolbox in some search situations and the idea of getting people to help with the operation online from wherever they are in the world is an interesting one. The media interest in the whole project has been great for the team, the technology was fascinating to watch and who knows how it might work with us and for us in future.”

- Mike Blakey, Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team Leader

Innovation support for businesses

UCLan runs the Innovation Clinic for Boost Business Lancashire. The Clinic offers free engineering, innovation, marketing and business development support for Lancashire-based manufacturing and engineering SMEs to help them bring new products to market. To apply for support, complete our online form or call 0800 488 0057.


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