Gene Robinson the UAV Search and Rescue Legend
A couple of weeks ago I spent a day at the sUSBExpo in San Francisco, organized by Patrick Egan (Thanks Patrick great job.) Quite a few people have covered the Expo already, so I’m going to focus on it from a different angle. I had the privilege of attending the Search and Rescue Workshop presented by Gene Robinson. This was a sold out workshop, but even so Patrick managed to get in most people who wanted to attend.
Gene Robinson has been a pioneer in the use of UAV for search and rescue, starting more than a decade ago. This is truly a humanitarian focus and Gene runs all his SAR work through the non-profit RP Flight Service (http://www.rpflightsystems.com/MainPage.html) /RP Search Services (http://www.rpsearchservices.org/) and working with Texas Equusearch (http://texasequusearch.org/). He was recently awarded the Recipient of the Spectra Humanitarian UA Award. If any one person is an advocate of the peaceful community based role for UAV’s, it’s Gene.
Gene uses his own fixed-wing UAV called the Spectra, using a Robota Goose Autopilot (http://www.robota.us/Autopilot/b/8829483011?ie=UTF8&title=Autopilot). Normally he flies with a 12Mps digital camera. His philosophy is simple, keep it simple, always have a back-up, plan and practice. How do you see this in his operations? Well the Spectra is a flying wing, with only 3 moving parts, two elevon servos and an electric motor. This is a design and requirement based on experience of what works and Gene has lots of it. For example, will your autopilot work below freezing, will it work at 120’F in the desert, will you LiPo batteries have full capacity at launch when it’s cold, and should you change your propellers when flying at altitude? Gene explained all this and more, with a very straight forward and simple way, but drove the message home. Here’s another example, you’re on a search in a desert, are you going to be any good to the Incident Commander if you’ve got sunstroke because you haven’t got any cover?
And here is another important point he drove home, be professional. Do your emergency management training; learn the Search and Rescue team’s methodologies and protocols. Know what radios they use, how to use them etc. And practice, practice, and practice you’re flying. As Gene put it, “You only get one chance with an Incident Commander, if you throw your UAV and it bites the dirt, you’re done.”
It was absorbing to hear of the fire monitoring, and search and rescue missions he has been involved in and made a difference. The number of searches he mentioned where the ground searches had been through an area with a tooth comb, and not find the missing person, only for Gene to find them later. It’s not that the ground search teams are doing it wrong, it’s a resource issue. To find a missing person, you need to be able to see the feet of the searcher next to you, if you don’t your too far apart, and can walk straight past the person you are trying to find. So if someone is lost in Yosemite, how many ground searchers would you need?!
Another of Genes take away point, gather as much information as possible, what were they wearing etc. Here’s another fact, about 80% of missing people are wearing Jean’s. Blue is not a significant natural color in nature. As such Gene now uses image processing software that scours the images for specific colors like blue and other discrepancies, and can identify possible sites for further investigation. On that note, Gene needs help to improve his image processing software, if there are any Python programmers out there, drop Gene an email, http://www.rpsearchservices.org/contact-form.html
The sad part is, is that Gene now has issues with the FAA. Although RP Search Services is a non-profit and Gene pays for everything himself (that’s about $4000 of equipment he throws in the sky knowing he may never get it back, people come before machines and he’s willing to lose it to save lives) they consider him flying search and rescue as a commercial operation, which according to the FAA is illegal under there regulations (that is a whole other story.) As such Gene has retained Brendan Schulman, a pioneering UAV Attorney to take the FAA to court to resolve the issue. The heartache of the matter is that until this is resolved, Gene is not flying SAR within the USA. What is worse, a lot of missing children are small children, can you imagine having a resource such as Gene on hand to find your lost child, but the FAA forbids it?
The next Saturday morning we went on a birthday party with my young daughter in a forest. The first thing I did was take a picture of my daughter. My wife having known that I’d been to Gene’s workshop said “You didn’t do that as a birthday party picture did you?” We also taught her a new rule, if you cannot see our feet your too far away. She’s still checking our feet to this day.
Thanks Gene, you are a real gentleman and humanitarian. Thanks for the workshop, the knowledge and the peace you have brought to families of missing people.
Go watch the Movie from Maha Calderon about Texas Equusearch and Gene Robinson, http://www.civiliandronesmovie.com/home.html
And if you can support Gene Robinson please support with a donation http://www.rpsearchservices.org/support.html
You can also buy his book, “First to Deploy” http://www.rpsearchservices.org/learn/index.html