In a South African first, the city of Cape Town has introduced an innovative drone project to assist with Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in the area. The Western Cape has waited for over a year to receive their license to operate these remotely-piloted aircraft systems. But, now that permission has been granted, they plan to put the machines to good use. Previously, SA's restrictions on drone operations were fairly stringent, which is why the license from our Civil Aviation Authority took some time. However, there's no doubting that these aircraft systems will come in handy in Cape Town's various high-risk situations. Here's what you need to know about this local tech milestone...
Cape Town's innovative drone project
What is the EMS Drone Rescue Project?
Plans for this project have been in place for some time. And, in 2019, a total of 15 drones were purchased for the EMS Drone Rescue Project on behalf of the Western Cape health department. According to Cape Town's director for safety and security, Richard Bosman, the price for these highly technical machines came in at R500 000. With Cape Town experiencing several high-risk situations throughout the year - deserted hikers on Table Mountain, fire flare ups in the dry season, stranded swimmers - the expense is surely worth it.
The initial plan is that the drones will be used to assist search and rescue missions on Table Mountain and the surrounding areas. But, in time, they'll hopefully be able to help in many other emergency situations as well. This is now the first SA government institution licensed to operate drones above what are known as 'national keypoints' in South Africa.
How can the drones help?
Using the latest technology, and operated by registered drone pilots from Cape Town's EMS team, the devices will be used for rescue and reconnaissance purposes. The pilots can send them out into hard-to-reach mountainous areas and assess the risk of the situation before sending EMS personnel to help. Initially, they plan to focus on Table Mountain as several hikers require emergency assistance every year.
The drones send live imagery of the terrain back to primary response teams, so that experts can assess potential danger. With the live feed, teams can review a situation in time to make informed decisions and plan their next steps. The machines help to reduce response time so that rescue missions can be deployed quickly. The more the EMS guys know, the better their rescue plans, the more efficient they can be about carrying out their tasks, and the less risk they ultimately face. This kind of tech could be invaluable to saving lives in high-risk situations.
Cape Town's dry season is around the corner, when the area's mountainous regions face the danger of raging fires spurred by gale-force winds. So, while the drones are currently being operated around Table Mountain, there's a strong likelihood that their services will be used for other situations, too.
Through the use of thermal-imaging cameras attached to the drones, the machines will be able to identify potential fire flare-ups and at-risk areas. These images serve as heat signatures, allowing the EMS team to assess dangers and respond in time to prevent or contain serious flames.
Next on the agenda is to assist with search and rescue sea operations and, one day, even crime prevention. The city plans to take full advantage of this technological gamechanger.
In time, we may be seeing more rescue and reconnaissance drones in the air. And in more provinces. Time to look up...