Search-and-rescue drone debuts, FAA issues remote ID rule

March 17, 2021  - By

It’s hard to pick out an outstanding story or two this month from the dozens of new or related drone initiatives that bombard my inbox. But there’s always some that stand out, needing emphasis. This month, we look at these developments:

  • NEC Laboratories Europe introduces a potential drone solution for finding disaster victims
  • The FAA issues its remote ID rule, which also enables flight over people and nighttime operations
  • The Boeing Loyal Wingman succeeds with its maiden flight in Australia.

Search-and-rescue drone

Finding survivors is a primary task for first responders in disaster situations, so if a feasible approach using drones looks possible, its something we should prove out and implement quickly. Researchers at NEC Laboratories Europe, based in Germany, have come up with a drone shown to be able to locate a person’s cell phone — it works better in open situations, but takes longer and is less accurate when there are obstructions.

The Search-and-Rescue Drone (SARDO).(Photo: NEC Labs/Antonio Albany)

The Search-and-Rescue Drone (SARDO). (Photo: NEC Labs/Antonio Albany)

The concept of the search-and-rescue drone (SARDO) is basically to hang cellphone-tower electronics on the drone, and then let it self-triangulate on the return signal from the victim’s phone. So if you know where you are and estimate distance by pinging the victim’s phone and measuring the transit time, then move a known distance and repeat, eventually you converge on the phone’s location.

Putting all that into reliable flying algorithms is something; proving that your design works is significantly more tricky. Overcoming signal blockage due to debris brings another level of complexity, as does tracking the victim if he or she is moving.

But this looks like a great initiative which should be developed further — a possible boon for finding people in earthquakes and other building-collapse situations.

FAA Remote ID Rule issued

Image: ConceptCafe/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Image: ConceptCafe/iStock/Getty Images Plus

On Jan. 15, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally issued its rules for remote ID: All UAVs greater than 0.55 pounds must transmit unique identifications. Although, it appears that even these lighter drones might also have to be capable of remote ID if operated commercially. The broadcast message has to include “identification, location, and performance information of the unmanned aircraft and its control station.”

The good news is that there are now several potential suppliers of these broadcast modules. The rules allow for an implementation period that stretches out another 18 or 30 months — UAV manufacturers have 18 months to comply, while drone operators have 30 months.

The rules also allow drone operators to fly their UAVs over people. There are four categories of drone, each with appropriate restrictions — all seemingly related to the injuries an out-of-control or falling drone could cause to a person. All such operations require that the FAA approve a written statement of compliance with these safety rules.

The rules will certainly help with coverage of spectator sports such as the Super Bowl and regular outdoor events like PGA golf tournaments. It would appear that the Golf Channel and CBS have already begun to broadcast drone coverage of recent golf events. Such operations needing to verify their compliance now, rather than over the implementation period.

And, of course, if you can fly over people, transiting over vehicles is now allowed. With an anti-collision light installed, night operations are also permitted once compliance is approved.

Photo: Boeing Australia

Photo: Boeing Australia

Loyal Wingman’s first flight

After three years of development, Boeing Australia got its Loyal Wingman unmanned aircraft off the ground on Feb. 27. The Loyal Wingman is sponsored by Boeing and the Australian RAAF.

The UAV/UAS is also referred to as the Airpower Teaming System (ATS), and should likely be considered a contender for the U.S. Air Force Skyborg manned-unmanned teaming program. At least two other companies involved with the Skyborg program are already flying similar vehicles — Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.


Anything that helps first responders find survivors in disasters is a good idea to take to users in the field as soon as possible, so the NEC Laboratories Europe initiatives is a welcome opportunity.

After more than two years to get the final rules published, the FAA is finally coming online with its Remote ID rule — even though it entails significant work on operators’ parts over the next several months for them to implement. But the window now seems to be significantly wider for them to be able to take on more viable commercial business ventures.

Finally, it’s good to see the Boeing ATS get into the air — the first aircraft in 50 years to be wholly built in Australia, with interest not only from the Australian RAAF, but also with potential participation in the USAF Skyborg program.

About the Author: Tony Murfin

Tony Murfin is managing consultant for GNSS Aerospace LLC, Florida. Murfin provides business development consulting services to companies involved in GNSS products and markets, and writes for GPS World as the OEM Professional contributing editor. Previously, Murfin worked for NovAtel Inc. in Calgary, Canada, as vice president of Business Development; for CMC Electronics in Montreal, Canada, as business development manager, product manager, software manger and software engineer; for CAE in Montreal as simulation software engineer; and for BAe in Warton, UK, as senior avionics engineer. Murfin has a B.Sc. from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in the UK, and is a UK Chartered Engineer (CEng MIET).