Arctic activity is expected to increase substantially during next decade. Melting ice opens up for more maritime traffic than earlier. Scientists believe that up to 25 per cent of ships between Europe and Asia will pass through the North East passage in 2030. Recently, the Norwegian Board of Technology presented our drone project at the international convention «The Arctic Boom», hosted by the Finnish government and European Parliamentary Technology Assessment (EPTA).

Arctic obligations

Today 80 per cent of all maritime traffic passes through Norwegian waters. Norway has an ambitious strategy for its Northern territories. This year the Arctic SAR-agreement was put into action.  The treaty coordinates international search and rescue (SAR) coverage and response in the Arctic. Norway’s response area is expanded to the North Pole, and we have an important responsibility in increasing the emergency preparedness level.

– Tough weather conditions and vast distances are challenges in The Arctic. Using drones as a part of the Norwegian SAR-capacity could mean that operations could be conducted more safely, quickly and at a lower cost, says Moe.

Drones may increase capacity

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are partially able to fly on their own. Drones come in all sizes with all kinds of different flight ranges. Even if they are associated with military purposes, other sectors experience great growth. Drones can monitor and gather information faster and at a lower cost than manned planes or helicopters.

According to Moe, because drones can fly without a crew, they can perform high risk missions without exposing crew-members to danger. For example, unmanned drones were used to assess the damages and radiation-levels in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Search and Rescue in the Arctic

By combining the advantages of manned and unmanned aircrafts, such as executing search and rescue operations where drones do the searching and manned aircrafts or boats do the rescuing, we can considerably increase SAR capacity in a simple and cost effective way.

– Drones equipped with thermographic cameras and other intelligent searching systems can monitor wide swaths of sea, during challenging weather conditions and without putting the lives of crew members at risk, says Moe.

Shared challenges

There remain significant technical challenges when flying and navigating drones in arctic conditions, but the technology is developing quickly, especially with regard to improving the capacity to sustain extreme weather conditions and icing.

The Nordic countries should consider harmonizing their drone regulations for research and search and rescue purposes. It is also important to expand the access to telecommunication networks in arctic areas. Without being connected to a broadband network, drones are able to fly but not to efficiently send data back home.

Arctic perfect for testing of drones

Surveillance and threats to privacy are challenges affecting use of drones in populated areas. Aviation safety and risk of accidents is another.

– The likelihood of accidents and breaches to personal privacy are considerably lower in the open sea than on the mainland. This is why search and rescue operations in the Arctic stands out as an area in which Norway can acquire valuable experience in the use of drones, with an important potential for beneficial consequences and conversely few drawbacks, Moe says.

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