Search and rescue drone reduces risk for NZ Coastguard crews
New Zealand coastguard

Search and rescue crews put themselves in harms way to help those in need, regardless of the risk. But the New Zealand Coastguard, a volunteer organisation, is using drone technology to reduce its teams’ exposure to danger.

New purpose-built unmanned drones are being used to help the coastguard’s volunteers in their search and rescue operations, whether at sea or over difficult terrain. By reducing reliance on conventional aircraft, the drones are helping to save money and reduce the risk of flying in what are often treacherous search and rescue conditions.

Named the Kuaka – the local Maori name for a species of Godwit – the delta-wing UAV is small enough to be launched off the back of a boat. Built by New Zealand-based Global Aerial Platforms the Kuaka’s airframe contains the power system, motor and electronics. The drone, which can also be launched from a catapult, has a flight time of 40-50 minutes at a cruise speed of 50 knots, and can land on either land or water.

The small drone, which costs around $5000, is equipped with a camera and other surveillance technology, giving the coastguard rapid access to an aerial vantage point. With a wingspan of just under two metres, it’s small enough to be easily transportable. Its makers are also developing a much larger Global Ranger model, which will be able to stay airborne for up to 10 hours at a time.