Making Science

O2 trial shows effectiveness of tethered drone/5G combi in assisting first responders

David Murphy

Virgin Media O2 has released details of a UK trial conducted with Swiss tethered drone company Fotokite to assist the emergency services when they arrive at the scene of an incident. In the trial, first responders were able to quickly send a tethered drone up to 45 meters above a situation, enabling emergency on-site personnel – and teams based in other locations connected by a 5G network – to immediately assess the situation.

The trial, conducted at Millbrook Proving Ground, was designed to help develop a greater understanding of how 5G connectivity can be used to aid emergency services at trauma scenes, and remote or difficult to reach locations. The fact that the drone is tethered to its base station removes the need for any any advanced drone piloting abilities on the part of the user. It is launched and landed using one button.

The tethered Fotokite Sigma system was successfully tested to receive 5G network connectivity from its base station on the ground, to transfer real-time data to first responders at the location and local hospital teams via a smart tablet. Its ultra-reliable low latency, uninterrupted aerial monitoring, and quick set up time of 2 minutes (approximately 13 minutes faster than any traditional drones) ensures no time is lost in conducting situational analysis of a scene, potentially saving lives.   

Available in three separate configurations, including a rooftop box, transport case and tray mount, the Fotokite can operate reliably in the harshest of conditions, day or night, whilst remaining elevated for as long as the mission requires. The drone can be flown with an A2 Certificate of Competence passed online, making it accessible to many in the UK.

“This is an important piece of technology and a further example of how 5G technologies can provide societal benefits,” said Rob Searle, Head of 5G at Virgin Media O2. “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.”

Martin Hunt, Medical Rescue Coordinator for the British Automobile Racing Club & 5G Technology Programme Manager at Virgin Media O2, said that the use of drones for emergency responders is becoming 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,” said Hunt. “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.”