Natural disasters are an increasingly serious threat for civil society. A fast and effective disaster management crucially depends on the availability of latest information and overviews of the affected areas. In cooperation with I.S.A.R. Germany we’re developing an autonomous rapid mapping solution that is particularly designed for real-time application, where comparatively large areas have to be assessed in short time by INSARAG certified search and rescue teams. The development is based on DLR’s Modular Aerial Camera System (MACS) and is funded by DLR's security research programme.
Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) drone with integrated rappid mapping camera system MACS-SaR. The drone can fly up to 90 Minutes with an average flight speed of 80km/h
Example of instantaneous mapped disaster site with 700x400m in dimension. Mapping time was less 2 minutes by flight altitude of 200m above ground level. Ground resolution is 3cm for each pixel. Figure shows a recreated disaster site of federal swiss army which is located in Epeisses, Switzerland
A lightweight version of MACS is carried by a fast flying drone for generating a map projected overview of the earth's surface. This overview is available on the ground in real-time by using a commercial radio link. If the range of the radio link is exceeded the overview is still available directly after landing in addition to all captured aerial images. The aerial imaging system consists of nadir looking cameras, a GNSS receiver combined with an industrial grade inertial measurement unit (IMU), an embedded computing unit and an appropriate radio link. The rapid mapping process is based on spatial intersection of image rays (i.e. rays of its corresponding pinhole camera in space) and elevation model. For every single aerial image its interior and exterior orientation (and optionally boresight alignment) determines exactly each pixel’s ray in space. In order to draw an aerial image onto a scaled map (i.e. a geo-referenced coordinate system) a projective mapping for every single image is determined. The result is a scaled image mosaic that shows the current situation of the disaster affected area which serves as additional map layer for common geographic information systems like ArcGIS™, QGis™ and GoogleEarth™.
The first prototype of the rapid mapping solution was evaluated within an international disaster rehearsal led by the United Nations in May 2017. After a major earthquake of magnitude 7.5 on the Richter scale several villages located within 20 kilometers around the epicenter had suffered extensive damage. As in real-life situation, the extent of damage to infrastructures and the number of casualties were initially uncertain. Several scattered areas were mapped in the beginning of the exercise resulting in coverage of 5 square kilometers within the first day. The resulting maps and single aerial images were additionally used for the disaster assessment by I.S.A.R. Germany to identify affected areas, estimate the level of destroyed buildings, recommend secure helicopter landing spots and bivouac sites and recognize remaining overtures to those areas. All maps were shared with other participating search and rescue teams (I.S.A.R. Germany, THW SEEBA, Swiss Rescue and @Fire) due to the On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC) and Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS). The VTOL drone by Germandrones was chosen first as carrier for the aerial camera system in 2017. It provided a fully autonomous on-site operation and thus flights even beyond line of sight. The maximum take-off weight was less 8kg by a net operation time of 60 minutes and an average cruise speed of 80km/h. Due to law restrictions the altitude was limited to 350m above ground level and only flights during daylight within line of sight were permitted. The results of the exercise are shown in the video below.
International Disaster Rehearsal led by UN INSARAG working group (May 2017, Epeisses, Switzerland)
A shorter version of the video with english description can be found here
In 2018 the VTOL drone by Quantum Systems (TRON F90+) was chosen as carrier because of greater range of operation and longer flight time. The drone and the first prototype of MACS-SaR were re-designed several times to fit the special needs and requirements of first responders by I.S.A.R. Germany. Employees of DLR were trained by I.S.A.R. Germany for participating in international aid missions. Joint operations have taken place twice so far (Mexico and Indonesia). The DLR "Drone Ops Team" is always ready-to-fly for supporting international aid missions of I.S.A.R. Germany.
The latest MACS-SaR camera system (October 2020) can be carried by a drone or a manned aircraft and it can be equipped with different optical sensors in the visual (RGB), near-infrared (NIR) and thermal-infrared (TIR) spectrum to guarantee a 24/7 operation. With the latest radio link it's able to create overviews of disaster affected areas on-site and on demand in real-time and it's able to share the results with participating aid organizations. Joint exercises take place annually at regular intervals in Germany with certain limitations due to the Corona Pandemic in 2020.
One of the biggest challenges is the safe operation of fast flying drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) whitin disaster areas. We're in contact with several authorities, aid organizations, humanitarian networks and research groups (e.g. DLR Institutes of Flight Systems and Flight Guidance) to find suitable solutions.
First responder of I.S.A.R. Germany uses real-time map of MACS-SaR for disaster assessment
I.S.A.R. Germany (International Search and Rescue) is a non-profit aid organization founded in Duisburg in 2003. It gathers a team of search and rescue specialists short after devastating accidents and catastrophes, which in most cases is deployed to the disaster affected area within 12 hours. The rescue team searches for trapped people and provides emergency medical services following severe earthquakes and floods. I.S.A.R. Germany has been working under the umbrella of the United Nations since 2007 and was the world's first group to be verified and certified as a 'Medium Team' by the UN Organization INSARAG.
DLR's security research programme plans and controls all research and development activities relevant to defense and security in coordination with its partners in government, science, industry and international organizations. In this respect, the cross-sectoral field of security research unites core competencies from established DLR program in aeronautics, space, energy and transport. In total, over 20 DLR institutes and centers pursuing security-relevant work contribute to the development, testing and assessment of technologies, systems and concepts, as well as the analysis and evaluation of their capabilities for security-relevant applications.