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KNRM tests drone to locate drowning victims

The Hague, 8 June 2021

With 5G, aircraft provides an extra pair of eyes in rescue operations

Scheveningen, 9 June 2021 – On the coast of Scheveningen, a test was conducted using a drone to locate drowning victims. The unmanned aircraft acts as an extra pair of eyes in rescue operations, thus increasing the chance of success. Drones could also be used for surveillance on the water.

The test is an initiative of the Royal Netherlands Sea Rescue Institution (KNRM), TNO and KPN. This was the first test using a drone whereby the KNRM used a 5G connection. Partner KPN facilitated this. Based on the images collected, TNO wants to develop software with which people in distress are automatically located. The test was supported by drone companies Skytools and Delft Dynamics.

Search and Rescue

Every year, the KNRM comes into action over 2,500 times, rescuing over 4,000 people. In 2020, the organisation had a busy summer. The lifeboat service was deployed hundreds of times to rescue swimmers, surfers and other fans of water sports, in many cases with one of the 75 boats available to the KNRM. Helicopters from the Coastguard were also used. Drones could be another resource in the near future.   

The KNRM feels they create added value and is interested in future developments. “This test is part of our research into the use of drones for maritime Search and Rescue (SAR). Based on the collected information, we decide how we will use drones. Which drones will we fly, what sensors will we use, where will we send them?” says spokesperson Jeroen Kodde. Besides detection, drones could also be used for surveillance on the water, the KNRM predicts.


Yesterday’s exercises off the coast of Scheveningen involved the use of a drone from drone company Skytools, again using 5G. “To process the huge amount of data from the drone and forward real-time video recordings, 5G connectivity is essential. With 5G, you are also assured of sufficient bandwidth and a better response time, which is vital to be able to fly safely with a drone,” Niels Hoffman from KPN explains. 

“Furthermore, with 5G we can prioritise mobile data, in this case from the rescue services, also when the network is busier, like on a packed beach. It’s like a motorway. A lot of traffic can cause congestion, whereby everyone slows down. With 5G, we can keep a lane free for data traffic for emergency services.”

Thermal imaging camera

A pick-up truck from Delft Dynamics, drone developer and builder, was used as the take-off and landing platform. The drone was fitted with a camera which produces high resolution images and a thermal imaging camera to detect body heat. The rescue action was coordinated from a special command vehicle, from which the drone was also operated. Images from the drone were shared in real time with the KNRM lifeboat at sea. Using images and GPS information, the boat set course for the drowning victims.

The images are now being collected and analysed by TNO research institute. “We gathered a lot of useful practical data from the five flights which took place in varying conditions,” says researcher Judith Dijk. “With those test images, we will develop automatic recognition of drowning victims. Such software will enable us to find people in the huge amount of image data and establish their location. In future, based on artificial intelligence, this software will help us work faster and more efficiently. It could then also be used for the location of drowning victims by other relevant organisations, like the Coastguard or the navy.”

Field Lab in the North Sea (Proeftuin op de Noordzee)

The location was not randomly chosen. Because the tests are part of the so-called Field Lab in the North Sea. That is a partnership in which the Municipality of The Hague, KPN, TU Delft, Sailing Innovation Centre, Svašek Hydraulics and Watersportverbond facilitate innovation. In a test area covering 10 by 10 nautical miles near Scheveningen, start-ups and SMEs from the maritime sector and water sports can conduct tests in very difficult conditions to develop smart technological solutions. For example, buoys and sensors to measure wind, current and waves and shipping movements.

Video recordings from the drone which has located drowning victims can be downloaded via this link. If using, please cite source: images Skytools. 

About KNRM

The Royal Netherlands Sea Rescue Institution carries out rescue operations on water, at sea and on inland waterways. The rescue services and lifeboats come into action after an alarm is sounded. The KNRM has 45 lifeboat stations along the coast. The 75 lifeboats are manned by 1400 volunteers. Every year, the KNRM comes into action over 2,500 times, helping or rescuing over 4,000 people.

About TNO

TNO (the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research) is an independent research institute. TNO focuses on targeted innovation: developing knowledge to deliver practical solutions for society. The 2600 employees are engaged in innovations, research and data that can be directly applied by businesses and government organisations. The mission is to create innovations which strengthen the competitive power of businesses and the wellbeing of society in the long term.

About KPN

As a network in the Netherlands, for over 135 years KPN has helped businesses in the Netherlands be continuously connected. With its future-oriented network, ICT and security solutions, KPN safeguards the continuity of business in the Netherlands. KPN ensures that organisations, big and small, are connected 24/7 and 365 days a year with their customers and employees, so that they can successfully conduct their business.


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