Little Ripper Life Saver | Drones to help prepare and recover from natural disasters as part of Queensland trial
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Drones to help prepare and recover from natural disasters as part of Queensland trial

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 Photo: Carrie Hillier wants to see if drones can be safely used for the upcoming storm season. (ABC News: Sharnie Kim)

BY SHARNIE KIM – ABC NEWS

A trial investigating the use of drones during natural disasters is about to be launched in Queensland.

The five-month project by Local Government Infrastructure Services will investigate how unmanned aerial vehicles can be used by Queensland councils to prepare for and recover from cyclones, storms, floods and fires.

In an Australian-first, the trial also will investigate if the drones can be safely flown beyond the pilot’s line of sight.

Under current regulations, pilots must be able to see their drones at all times, unless granted an exemption by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Local Government Association of Queensland’s chief executive Greg Hallam said it would mean drones could be flown greater distances, to places obscured by buildings or trees, and through smoke.

“This technology is game-changing,” he said.

“This is about improving people’s lives in Queensland wherever they live; it’s about saving lives in some instances.”

Project coordinator Carrie Hillier hoped to establish if councils could safely use drones for the upcoming storm season.

She said while it was well known drones could be very useful in disasters, not being able to fly them beyond the pilot’s line was sight was a major limitation to fully utilising their potential.

“The regulation isn’t quite there yet in regards to operating the drone beyond vision line of sight, although that would be more efficient in a disaster environment,” she said.

“So that’s why this is different because we’re going to be looking at that beyond visual line of sight, but also looking at how we can explore different technology options and different system options that would control the movements of drones so they don’t collide with each other.”

Trial to take place in south-east Queensland

The trial will use Little Ripper Lifesaver’s search and rescue drones, which can be used to drop supplies and equipment, and broadcast messages to people via a loudspeaker.

The company’s chief executive, Eddie Bennet, said they used advanced technology from the United States and China, and one could carry up to 30 kilograms.

“It’s got long-range cameras on it and the payloads are droppable into the water, so we’ve got automatic life-saving devices that inflate, we’ve got land-based pods that carry a defibrillator and medical kits,” he said.

“The whole intention behind this is to be able to fly for longer periods of time, longer distances, and the ability to provide life-saving capability.”

Mr Bennet said the drones could already be programmed to fly autonomously while mapping terrain and avoiding obstacles, and the trial would help develop safe systems to deploy them in disaster zones.

“Some of our aircraft are radar-based for terrain-following and also lidar for terrain-following as well and that helps us with avoiding obstacles,” he said.

“We also have fitted to it some technology out of the US which is just being introduced now which is basically a traffic-alerting system which allows these aircraft, these drones, to be identified by manned aircraft.”

The final trial site is yet to be determined, but it will be somewhere in south-east Queensland.

Field trials are expected to start in late October.

Carrie Hillier wants to see if drones can be safely used for the upcoming storm season.

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