Fotokite emergency drone

5G-connected drones used to assess emergency situations from the air

Image credit: virgin o2

Virgin Media O2 are carrying out trials of a 5G-connected drone designed to be used by emergency services to assess a situation for first responders.

The project, which is being conducted in partnership with Swiss drone company Fotokite, should provide emergency services and public safety teams with better tools to improve their situational awareness.

The Fotokite Sigma system receives 5G network connectivity from its base station on the ground which it can use to transfer real-time data to first responders at the location and local hospital teams via a smart tablet.

Its developers said it takes just two minutes to set up and has very low latency which allows for uninterrupted aerial monitoring. In some emergency situations, time is critical enough that this could help to save lives, Fotokite added. The drone is also capable of operating reliably in harsh weather conditions during the day or night.

Rob Searle, head of 5G at Virgin Media O2, said: “This is an important piece of technology and a further example of how 5G technologies can provide societal benefits. We are relentlessly pursuing new 5G-enabled innovations that will make real differences to people’s lives, from smart cities to connected vehicles and our work with utilities companies to the NHS. This partnership with Fotokite is another example of this and could transform how emergency services operate and react to life-threatening situations.

Chris McCall, CEO at Fotokite said: “Safety-critical data sharing in public safety applications can make a real impact when information is distributed quickly and reliably. Incident commanders and decision makers have new capabilities when it comes to 5G-enabled technologies like the Fotokite Sigma and we are excited to work with O2 in a joint mission to help those public safety teams save lives and stay safe.”

Martin Hunt, 5G technology programme manager at Virgin Media O2, said: “The use of drones for emergency responders is an increasingly valuable tool, as the rising number of applications and lower flying complexity make it quick and easy to manage.

“The Fotokite drone has both thermal imaging and RGB video camera capabilities, as well as the ability to fly for extended times in all weather conditions, providing crucial situational information and data for emergency teams.

“Being able to stream live feeds via a 5G network from the operational ‘hot zone’ of a major incident back to offsite strategic teams enables instant feedback and decision-making that could save lives.”

The project is not the first time that drone technology has been deployed in medical situations. Last month, researchers tested their ability to deliver life-saving defibrillators to people with suspected cardiac arrest, as they were shown to be faster than ambulances at reaching their destination.

Drones were also used last year to transport PPE and coronavirus test kits to the remote Argyll and Bute islands off the west coast of Scotland.

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