Royal Navy tests potential for drones to help rescue persons overboard
The Royal Navy's NavyX autonomy accelerator team and private companies Malloy Aeronautics and Planck Aerosystems have been testing the potential for heavy-lift Minerva drones to locate and aid sailors that have fallen overboard until help can arrive.
On even the smallest boat, hearing the cry of "person overboard" is something you always hope is just another practice drill. Finding and rescuing someone in the water requires sharp eyes, teamwork, and expert seamanship to keep track of and intercept an object the size of a football among the waves if a frightening incident isn't to turn into disaster.
Such incidents are even worse on large ships because of their high freeboards and the fact it can often take them miles to come about, making returning to the person in the water and launching a rescue boat a slow, complex maneuver where every minute risks losing sight of the person.
With initial testing at the Royal Navy’s Diving School at Horsea Island, Portsmouth, followed by sea trials on a civilian vessel, the purpose of the latest tests was to show how a drone can not only find someone in the water, but also hover over them, and even drop a life buoy and other gear near them.
For the first tests, the Minerva T-150 rotorcraft was used to locate a floating dummy in Portsmouth Harbor, deployed a test package representing rescue equipment, and hovered over the dummy to provide rescuers with a visual marker of its location. The drop maneuver was based on lessons learned from resupply drone tests carried out by the Royal Marines during commando exercises in Norway and Cyprus in 2020.
For the second phase of testing, a smaller Minerva T-80 drone was used. In these tests, the drone lifted off from a moving boat, then flew out to sea. On returning, the drone could use its onboard systems to track a mat attached to the boat's deck and zero in for an autonomous landing.
Source: Royal Navy