Modern search and rescue technology advances

Steve Taranovich
Jan 17 · 3 min read

The Earth has seen very severe natural disasters in recent years, and thanks to climate change, these disasters are only increasing in frequency. Australia’s bush fires, for example, have become worse and worse, with the current fires being unprecedented in modern history. More disasters:

  • Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, a category 4 storm, October 5, 2017. An estimated almost 3,000 people died.
  • Earthquakes like that in Albania in 2019 killed 51 people and injured 2,000.
  • Tsunamis struck Indonesia in 2018 and killed 2,000 people.

With disasters, there is always a need for rescue, recovery, and simply finding stuff in the hours and days afterwards. Enter DronAID a program developed by a group of Pakistani women from Jinnah University for Women in Karachi. This is a system designed for detecting people in areas recovering from a disaster. It’s the perfect application for the technology we’ve come to enjoy over the past decade or so. Quadcopters, small, low power radio and GPS modules have enabled dozens of search and rescue technologies. This is a field that’s on the rise, and not a day too soon.


DronAID is a smart human detection drone for rescue. This new system has features that most other existing systems lack. DronAID has human detection, live streaming to a smartphone, GPS tagging, and image processing.

DronAID system flow diagram

This system is built around a Passive Infrared Sensor (PIR), which can detect a human via heat radiation. This information is then sent to rescue teams along with images and video, enabling rescuers to speed away to the scene of a disaster.

NASA ANGEL program

NASA’s Search and Rescue mission manager Lisa Mazzuca holding hardware from their beacon development effort (Image courtesy of NASA)

The ANGEL (Advanced Next-Generation Emergency Locator) is a system developed by NASA that will be worn by the next astronauts returning from the moon.

ANGEL leverages the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite constellation. This constellation listens to small radio beacons carried aboard ships and aircrafts, and is responsible for finding over two thousand people per year. However, for NASA, there are problems with this system.

To reduce launch times and provide better location data, ANGEL is effectively a new type of beacon for this satellite constellation.

A Second Generation Beacon (SGB) is attached to the astronaut Life Preserver Unit (LPU) and is activated after splashdown using a 406 MHz signal and a 121.5 MHz swept tone signal. The SGB is used in the NASA MEOSAR program as well. (Image courtesy of NASA)

NASA Medium Earth Orbiting Search and Rescue (MEOSAR)

MEOSAR is based upon Search and Rescue (SAR) repeaters residing on Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) satellites. The beacon from a lifejacket will be detected and located globally at all times via time and frequency measurements of the beacon signal which triangulates its location.

Accuracy determines beacon location within 5km, 95% of the time within 10 minutes of beacon activation. The Second Generation Beacon (SGB) requirement will be able to determine beacon location within 1km in the first burst 95% of the time and within 100m after 30 minutes with 99.9% probability of detection of at least one beacon message within 30 seconds after activated.

NASA MEOSAR operation (Image courtesy of NASA)

NASA developments are not only for space-related missions, but are almost always applied to Earth-based programs that benefit humanity.

Written for @SupplyFrame


1 DronAID: A Smart Human Detection Drone for Rescue, Rameesha Tariq, Maham Rahim, Nimra Aslam, Narmeen Bawany, Ummay Faseeha, Computer Science and Information Technology, Jinnah University For Women, Karachi, Pakistan. IEEE 2018


Steve Taranovich

Written by

BEEE NYU, MSEE Brooklyn Polytech, Eta Kappa Nu Honor Society, IEEE Educational Activities Chairman, Electronics Design Engineer 40 years, Tech writer 9 years


Discussing the business of hardware and hardware manufacturing.

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