Drone technologies have greatly advanced in recent years for photographers and hobbyists alike but a recent report published by the DJI Policy and Legal Affairs Department showed just how far drone technology is evolving. According to DJI’s research, drones have saved the lives of at least 38 people in a 42 week span stretching between March 2016 and February 2017. In total, 59 lives have been saved because of drones according to the DJI.

Of the 59 people rescued, 20 were saved by civilians aiding a rescue team with their drones. According to another study done by the DJI, it takes a trained five-person rescue team two hours to find their target in a one kilometer area. A drone can cover that area and identify the target within 20 minutes; nearly six times faster than a team working on foot. The use of drones help rescue teams properly prepare for a mission by finding the exact location of the victim. The team can then prepare the necessary equipment to successfully rescue those involved. Video of a May 2015 rescue shows a drone guiding a boat through flooded Texas streets by the use of a spotlight attached to the drone. The operator, a volunteer drone pilot, was able to guide the boat directly to a truck stuck in a dense group of trees.

Kamloops Search and Rescue conducted a search with a drone in February and located seven missing skiers in Western Canada. The search team used a DJI Matrice drone equipped with a heat sensing camera that helped direct the search teams to the victims.

More than half of the drone rescues reported have occurred in flooded areas and the majority of the rest were in places with difficult terrain to search. The DJI report only includes incidents that drones directly helped save lives of those involved. There are countless other cases where drones indirectly assisted in the search and rescue missions. In December 2015, Indian citizens used drones to find numerous families and nearly 200 individuals stranded due to extensive flooding. Those involved were able to contact authorities and relay the location of the stranded people.  

Aerial searches allow rescue teams to cover areas faster and more efficiently. While helicopters have been used on rescue missions for many years, drones are even more useful. They are more compact, can fly close to the ground or far above any terrain to identify victims. Using drones for rescue missions will likely increase due to the success seen in recent months.