Hiking Safety/Distress Drone Idea

Posted by: EngiStudent8

Hiking Safety/Distress Drone Idea - 10/25/17 08:43 AM

Hello hikers

I am an engineering student from Denmark. I am looking to develop a drone that can assist hikers in need of help. The basic idea I am working with now is that you can deploy the drone and it will try to locate help.
Different scenarios where I imagine this could be useful:

  • You are in a place with no telephone signal. The drone knows where the nearest telephone signal can be located. In case of emergency it flies there and sends an emergency signal.
  • You fall into some hole(?) without any signal. The drone would be equipped with sensors that make it able to escape the hole and send a distress signal.

I realize that satellite phones and PLBs exist, however I believe this solution could be done a lot cheaper.

Is this a product you would be interested in? If so, why or why

Thanks in advance
University of Southern Denmark
Posted by: 4evrplan

Re: Hiking Safety/Distress Drone Idea - 10/25/17 10:01 AM

I'm not sure it would be cheaper than a PLB. Even if it successfully flew to a phone, how would it use it? Wouldn't it be better to have a built-in phone onboard? This incurs the cost of the phone electronics and service charges. It might be useful, not because of economy, but because you can use it in places where a PLB doesn't have a signal, i.e. caving, but I think your market is going to be very small indeed.

I'm not trying to be a nay-sayer; I'm just trying to be realistic. In any case, I hope your project goes well.

EDIT: Sorry, I misread your post. You didn't say the nearest phone, you said the nearest signal, so I realize you meant it would have an onboard phone. Never the less, I'd be surprised if you can manufacture, market, and deliver for less than a PLB.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Hiking Safety/Distress Drone Idea - 10/25/17 03:52 PM

Most of us backpack in designated wilderness areas (at least that's where we are most apt to get into trouble, with no cell phone signal) where the use of drones is illegal under Federal law.
Posted by: Glenn Roberts

Re: Hiking Safety/Distress Drone Idea - 10/25/17 06:39 PM

I’m probably not willing to carry such a thing, unless you can get it to weigh less than 4 ounces (short answer: you can’t.)

I hike almost exclusively on-trail in the eastern US; these are not vast wilderness areas, and the trails (while not crowded) are well-hiked. I tend not to do reckless things. In nearly 40 years of such backpacking trips, alone and in groups, I’ve never once been in any situation that would come anywhere close to any rational definition of “emergency.” So, my risk of getting into the kinds of no-help-likely situations you envision are quite low, perhaps to the vanishing point.

For me, you’re trying to fill a need that doesn’t exist. Therefore, the chances that I’d need such a thing simply aren’t worth the cost (in weight) of lugging it around.

Drones could be very useful to SAR teams, I suppose - unless you’re in a wilderness area where their use would still be illegal.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Hiking Safety/Distress Drone Idea - 10/25/17 07:09 PM

About cost. The model of Personal Locator Beacon I own costs $270 US (the price has dropped $30 in the past 3 years) and weighs 5.4 oz. (about 128 g). Its battery lasts 5 years. I doubt that a drone could be that cheap, or that light, even if it were legal.

Many people (I'm not one of them) prefer a gadget (SPOT or Inreach) that will send daily reassuring messages to the family back home. I doubt a drone could do that even if it were legal.
Posted by: aimless

Re: Hiking Safety/Distress Drone Idea - 10/25/17 08:08 PM

I believe this solution could be done a lot cheaper.

There are many other factors for hikers besides cost.

Foremost, any equipment designed for use in a life-and-death situation must be ultra-reliable, otherwise, it is pointless.
It would have to be durable enough to withstand being jammed into a pack with other objects, knocked against trees, leaned against and generally mistreated and still do its job when most needed.

It would have to have enough power to fly for as many miles as might be necessary. There are many parts of the Western hemisphere (e.g. Canada, Alaska, the Andes) where a phone signal might be very far away. Also, don't forget weather conditions. High winds, heavy rain or snow & ice must not defeat your rescue drone.

You'd need to equip it to be able to independently tell the rescuers where the imperiled hiker is located. You cannot assume the hiker would be able to convey this information. You'd need to design it to interface seamlessly with an existing network for search and rescue. Otherwise, who will it be talking to and how would they know what to do?

It would have to be small enough to justify the space it takes up in one's pack. And, as noted already, it would also need to be lightweight. Bulky or heavy items tend to be left behind.

Solve all these problems more cheaply and reliably than what is already out there and you might have a winner.
Posted by: EngiStudent8

Re: Hiking Safety/Distress Drone Idea - 10/26/17 08:32 AM

I realize I was quite overzealous when I said a lot cheaper. Anyways thank you for your feedback, much appreciated.
Posted by: EngiStudent8

Re: Hiking Safety/Distress Drone Idea - 10/26/17 08:47 AM

Thank you for your feedback. I agree it must be very light weight. Perhaps the emergency feature could be an add on. Many people bring drones along hiking for beautiful shots etc.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Hiking Safety/Distress Drone Idea - 10/26/17 12:32 PM

Do remember that drones are illegal in federally designated wilderness areas, where many of us, especially in the western US, do most of our backpacking. In other words, your gadget cannot be used in those areas where there would be the most need for it due to isolation and rough terrain.

Plus, the general opinions expressed on hiking/backpacking forums here in the Pacific Northwest is an extreme dislike of drones, including threats to shoot them down! (Not by me, although I'd be sorely tempted!)
Posted by: EngiStudent8

Re: Hiking Safety/Distress Drone Idea - 10/27/17 04:55 AM

The legality is definitely a major concern. I think it could be wagered, that it would be OK to deploy the drone in an extreme emergency.

Why do people dislike drones so much?

Thank you for the feedback.
Posted by: balzaccom

Re: Hiking Safety/Distress Drone Idea - 10/27/17 09:35 AM

I agree about the extreme emergency, but my experience is that the hikers who would deploy are very poor judges of what an extreme emergency is. Being tired, hot, and hungry is not an extreme emergency, yet we see PLBs activated on a regular basis for these reasons.

People hate drones in the wilderness because we go to the wilderness to escape the noise, hustle, and bustle of urban life, People who bring noisy urban appliances into the wilderness ruin that experience for the rest of us. And they do it even though it is illegal. If it were made legal, the incidence would be much higher.
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Hiking Safety/Distress Drone Idea - 10/27/17 10:42 AM

I think the legality of a emergency drone can be overcome, so I'd not worry too much about that, but the weight and distance it can travel may be a hurdle that's difficult to overcome right now, but that could change with technology advances soon enough.

But, as mentioned here, a drone that goes looking for someone who's lost or needs help is an approach that may have more potential as it could find and deliver aid before rescuers arrive and confirm the hikers location.

Finding a hiker might be approached by searching for signals from a phone or other devices that send a signal, like a "SPOT".

Another approach is maybe using a drone as a relay to send a message or phone call. Here in the Ozarks, for example, it's easy to be down low in a creek between hills and not get a cell phone signal, but if you climb a few hundred feet up you can get one.

This idea has merit.
Posted by: aimless

Re: Hiking Safety/Distress Drone Idea - 10/27/17 01:38 PM

If the drone were merely a relay allowing the user to make a call on a cell phone, I suspect that it would be used for non-emergency calls almost exclusively. This would be legal in many places like the Ozarks, but given the lack of Forest Service personnel to enforce current wilderness regulations, it would just present one more temptation for the hikers who think only of their own pleasure and convenience to proliferate drones where they don't belong, in order to feed their phone obsession.
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Hiking Safety/Distress Drone Idea - 10/28/17 06:38 PM

"I suspect that it would be used for non-emergency calls almost exclusively."

lol!! I have no doubt you're right about that. I would hate having to hear those things buzzing around.