Migration Journey Supported by Drone Surveillance – EU Search and Rescue

Migrant Yourney
Source: National Geographic - Migrants Journey around the Globe - Credits to National Geographics
  • Migration Journey Routes and their risks for human lives are a call for governments to search for potential solutions;

  • Can EU Horizon 2020 programs present a starting point for many projects aiming to better the migration journey? SARA project is the most recent project involving drones in search and rescue missions with high EGNSS accuracy;

  • SARA project represents the use of semi-autonomous drones, adapted for Search and Rescue operations. These drones support vessels to detect people at sea;

  • The project has concluded the engineering stage and is now seeking investors for the industrialization and commercialization stages. SARA project puts high hopes in all drone enthusiasts.

The words ‘human migration’ stand for people moving from one location to another, with the intention to settle permanently. This type of movement can be local, but most often over a long distance. Due to financial or political situations and lack of options, many people chose risky routes for their migration journey. These decisions place their lives in danger.

Thousands of migrants fail to reach their final destination due to starvation, exhaustion, sickness, or other reasons each day. However, some nations acknowledge the potential threats on human lives and invest heavily in minimizing unwanted casualties with technological research or law regulations. The USA, EU, and some Asian countries are among migrants’ top picks. The migration journey to these developed regions that require crossing water or desert terrains have also the highest number of casualties. Therefore the real numbers could be much greater.

The Mediterranean region counts hundreds and sometimes thousands of deaths annually. In 2020 alone, there have already been 268 deaths. In the peak of 2016 the body count reached 2557. The route through Africa, with the Sahara parts, place Africa in the second place. Closely after, come the Americas, as a result of migrants from the south trying to reach the USA and/or Canada.

The need for improvement is obvious all over the world. The pickup vehicles and small rescue-equipped boats are unable to provide the assistance that is needed. Often times, they arrive late for the rescue. The new way of dealing with this problem is by combining the use of drones along with the standard vehicles to be used as vessels. Faster and more reliable drone services can detect people and save lives faster than any other.

SARA – EU Project for Search and Rescue on the Migration Journey

The EU members are aware of the negative consequences of human casualties on the migration routes to Europe. Due to this reason, the EU program Horizon 2020 funds projects and partnerships with private businesses that are aiming to develop new technologies that can better the surveillance of the borders and save lives.

One of the few funded projects from this program is the SARA project. The name stands for “Search and Rescue Aid and Surveillance using High EGNSS accuracy”. It’s the most recent big EU project involving drone search and rescue. The project was coordinated by Sistematica SPA, an Italian company specialized in the design and development of integrated software solutions. Compared to the previously mentioned ICARUS project, SARA’s budget is relatively small. The overall budget is around $2 million in which EU contributions are a little over $1.4 million. However, it did it’s part and closed with success. Its main goal was to engineer and commercialize a solution on an already existing prototype. A product that can be bought on the market regarding Search, Rescue, and Surveillance purposes.

To start understanding more about the project, we need to know what EGNSS is. EGNSS stands for “European Global Navigation Satellite System”. It represents a constellation of many satellites that provide signals and transmit them back to the GNSS receivers. In short, it provides global coverage. The USA, Russia, and China all have independent examples for GNSS. They all represent independent entities but are all assessed using four main criteria. 1) Accuracy, 2) Integrity, 3) Continuity, and 4) Availability. Now, knowing the basics of GNSS technology, we can take a closer look at the project.

The Process of Detecting and Saving Lives at Sea

The project actually represents the use of semi-autonomous drones, adapted for Search and Rescue operations. These drones support vessels (often boats and ships) to detect people at sea, especially during the dark hours. The system uses drones as well as ground stations which support the drones. The drones use high optical/digital zoom or high-resolution thermal IR cameras for night vision. The ground station is a hangar that provides continuous surveillance and “unlimited” power to the drones. Next, a user terminal is installed in the vessel.

The system uses two high accuracy Galileo GNSS receivers as a power source. This provides a reliable signal without putting mechanical stress on the cable. The drone can automatically follow the vessel thanks to the synchronization of flight data with the hangar. As a result of this system, survivors can be detected at day or night at the proximity of 700 meters.

Validation Test for The SARA project on sea in Szczecin, Poland

Support the Project and Throw some Funds – Trust the Engineers and Save Lives!

The SARA project now has over 22 supporting organizations. All of them express high hopes in this solution. The project has concluded the engineering stage and is now seeking investors for the industrialization and commercialization stages. With this being said, the SARA project gives high hopes to all drone enthusiasts. Most importantly, it catches the interest of other types of organizations and universities. Such entities include The Maritime University of Szczecin, TopView, EuroDev, Universita Degli Studi Firenze, and others.

The outcome of the final workshop of The SARA Project

Needless to say, aside from all the other benefits, the project also serves as a great ambassador for the World of Drones. It has paved the way for more similar projects. One such project is the BorderUAS. An active project led by the EU. The project’s end date is set somewhere in the middle of 2023 and as drone enthusiasts, we can’t wait for the upcoming results! Its main goal is to upgrade border surveillance with the use of drones. While we are waiting for more information about BorderUAS, support the SARA project, and save lives. We will be back with more projects, stay tuned and read more Disaster Drones.