The Robots and Drones that Saved the Notre Dame Cathedral

Drones have unfortunately been pigeonholed by the media as useful in delivering our packages or acting as aerial “suicide” bombers. It’s quite sad, considering there are so many other beneficial use cases. Seriously, CB Insights generated a list of 38 ways drones will impact society, with some of the more intriguing being:

There are many moonshot ways of bringing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) into our lives. However, the one that is gaining very interesting traction is their ability to provide an aerial perspective during emergency situations such as fires, floods, earthquakes, highway collisions, search-and-rescue missions, etc…

This became abundantly clear on Monday when a fire overtook the Notre Dame Cathedral:

As reported by the French media, emergency response teams utilized at least two UAVs to perform reconnaissance over the burning cathedral. With imagery provided by these platforms, firefighters were able to see the intensity and movement of the fire in real-time. These UAVs were not only faster and cheaper than sending in helicopters, but their operators were able to get much closer to the fire as they were not as susceptible to the heat and smoke which would have kept manned aircraft at a respectable distance.

Tom Nardy, Hackaday

They also used a half-ton, robotic water cannon called Colosus to fight the fire in the dangerous interior of the Cathedral.

Fire brigade spokesman Gabriel Plus told local media that the drones were instrumental in saving the cathedral’s structure.

Shannon Liao, The Verge

Paris isn’t the only city finding benefit from drones:

The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) has been deploying tethered drones at incident scenes since March 2017, says John Hodgens, deputy assistant chief of operations. “We primarily fly HoverFly tethered drones that carry both video and infrared cameras, and their greatest feature is allowing us to see where a fire is traveling in a roof space,” Hodgens says.

Alan Petrillo, Fire Apparatus Magazine

Additionally, you’ve got companies like Skyfire Consulting who’s helped more than 152 fire departments identify and implement drone operations into their program.

The value of using drones for emergency response is very clear. Aside from guidelines and protocols, I think the only major thing stopping every municipality from deploying their own drone unit is whether or not their budget has room for it.

So, why not outsource the cost?

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Getting Help from Hobbyists

For small and mid-size towns, paying for the equipment and a full-time drone operator may not be the best use of funds. However, there already exist tens of thousands of drone hobbyists out there that would happily devote a little time to using their skills for a greater purpose. Especially to help their hometown heroes.

Why not create a UAV Emergency Response Certification to train hobbyist/commercial drone operators into reliable first responders? The FAA already has a list of certifications people need to get in order to operate their drones in a specific way. Why not add a training that applies directly to the skills needed in a fire response situation?

Ideally, this certification could help create networks of local, certified operators – very similar to the Army National Guard or volunteer fireman – who maintain their training and are always prepared for when the opportunity calls. Seriously, this could be like the “bat call” of drone response.