Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) has struck a new partnership with the Snowdonia Aerospace Centre to explore the use of 4G and 5G drones to deliver emergency services in remote locations
The UK’s national parks are some of the most celebrated locations in the country, attracting millions of visitors every year to bask in their natural glory. But despite their popularity, many of these regions are lacking in crucial connectivity, particularly in some of their most mountainous areas, where deploying infrastructure is a challenge. This lack of connectivity represents a significant challenge for emergency services, with visitors often unable to contact help when lost or injured in the parks.
The scale of this problem should not be underestimated. Recent research from VMO2 indicates that 73% of British people have walked or hiked in a national park in 2022, with 31% saying they feared being unable to contact anyone if they got lost. The study also suggested that the number of Brits visiting these parks could soon increase, with 36% of respondents saying they would consider visiting a national park due to its inexpensive nature during the cost-of-living crisis.
Now, VMO2 is joining forces with the Snowdonia Aerospace Centre to test the latter’s ‘Dragon’ Unmanned Aircraft System as a potential flying base station, able to deliver 4G and 5G to visitors and emergency services.
The Dragon drone will not only be a relatively cheap and environmentally friendly way to provide connectivity to visitors but will also help provide emergency services with more precise location data for visitors in need of rescue, as well as picture sharing and video call capabilities. In some cases, this will allow lost visitors to be guided back to safety without the need to send out rescue personnel.
“Mountain Rescue is a volunteer service and there is only so much resource we have available to us. With more and more people visiting Snowdonia each year, a drone with mobile connectivity would be a powerful tool for the search and rescue teams to understand and assess a situation immediately, saving crucial time in life-threatening situations,” explained Paul Terry a Police Sergeant in the North Wales Police Drone Unit and Mountain Rescue volunteer.
“This project is a further example of how 5G technologies can provide real societal benefits for people around the UK, wherever they are. This trial could transform how emergency services operate and react to life-threatening situations, and make people feel safer while enjoying national parks,” explained Kirsty Bright, Director of Network Innovation and Transformation at VMO2. “We’ve already run our first successful test flights at the Llanbedr airport with the Snowdonia Aerospace team and look forward to demonstrating how it can support mountain rescue teams across Snowdonia.”
This drone project is currently funded by the Innovate UK Future Flight Challenge and a Department for Transport Drone Technology Research and Innovation Grant. In addition to VMO2 and Snowdonia Aerospace, the project also includes SwiftFlight Avionics, Wavemobile, and the Welsh Government.
VMO2 has been testing drones in an emergency services context for a while now, last year partnering with Swiss company Fotokite to trial 5G-connected tethered drones. These drones do not need a specialist operator and can fly 45 metres above an emergency site, providing emergency responders with live video feed of the surrounding area.
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