West Midlands Fire Service trial a cinemizer controlled quadcopter for search and rescue

Published:  17 December, 2013

In a recent fire service exercise, Operation Carnage, West Midlands Fire Service evaluated a new way of flying their quadcopter using the ZEISS cinemizer OLED head-mounted display in order to get a real birds-eye view of the proceedings. 

The practice drill recreated a scene designed to mimic the aftermath of a high speed multiple car road traffic collision. A dozen cars were arranged across the crash site in various realistic and hard-to-reach positions, and volunteers played casualties trapped in the wreckage. West Midlands Fire Service was then deployed to assess the wreckage, and rescue the volunteer casualties.

The fire service resources in attendance included a small remote controlled quadcopter, which is used to fly over incidents like this. It is there to give an overview of the situation, and to identify casualties that may be trapped, or who may have wandered away for the scene of the incident. Usually one person flies the quadcopter, and a second fire officer on a laptop monitors the live video link. Multiple cameras can be used, including an infrared heat-sensing camera, which can identify body heat.

For this exercise the quadcopter team used the cinemizer OLED head-mounted display to give the quadcopter pilot a live view from the quadcopter. The first-person view allows the operator to see the feed from the camera, and direct it more accurately. Even when some casualties are behind an “obstacle” where the operator would not have direct visual contact, he can fly the copter to this place, with the second operator acting as a spotter. The feed is also shown on the laptop, so the second operator can monitor the video link, as well as keep an eye on telemetry which monitors things like wind speed and battery life. When using the cinemizer glasses, the operator doesn’t get distracted by sunlight, flashlights or noise, so they always have the live image in front of their eyes, which means 100% control.

Andy Cashmore, Station Commander of Emergency Response at West Midlands Fire Service piloted the quadcopter during Operation Carnage. He explained: ‘We have had the quadcopter for almost five years now, but haven’t ever used a first-person view setup with a video headset because previous models didn’t offer a good enough image. The ZEISS cinemizer OLED is the first head-mounted display we’ve tried that offers such a sharp, high-resolution image, with vibrant colour, and the eyeshield means it can be used even in bright sunlight.’

‘Although flying in the FPV style through the cinemizer takes a little getting used to, the live view from the quadcopter means I can more quickly identify important details of the scene. We could very quickly sweep the scene today with our heat camera, so we were confident there weren’t any casualties that had wandered into the long grass. A very real danger at incidents involving motor vehicles, as the time it takes to locate them could mean the difference between life and death.’

‘Where lives are at stake, I’m keen to use anything that can keep the public and our fire fighters safe. So I’ll be keen to include the cinemizer OLED in our specifications for our next quadcopter which we have just secured funding for.’

Franz Troppenhagen, cinemizer Marketing Manager commented: ‘It’s exciting to see what a difference the cinemizer can make in scenarios like this. The cinemizer is now being used across the world for professional search and rescue with quadcopter’s. I believe the cinemizer OLED, with the eyeshield, offers the best solution available for this sort of work because of its small portable design and it’s unrivalled image quality.’

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