back to article The sea is dangerous and no one likes robots, so why not send a drone on rescue missions?

The UK's Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is coughing up just shy of a million quid to see how drones could help with sea rescue and surveillance operations. Interested parties have until 19 August to put in a bid and will need to be ready to go by 1 September. The invitation to tender aims to improve MCA operations while …

  1. GnuTzu


    How long before this turns into surveillance technology? Will it end up being used in catching illegal immigrants, or is that already a thing?

    1. JLV
      Thumb Down

      Re: Surveillance?

      As someone living near the often dangerous Northwest Pacific - you’re a douchebag.

      The capabilities and design goals of this tech likely have very in common with more questionable projects like the trialed high altitude surveillance balloons in the news.

      - shorter loiter time

      - limited area coverage

      - de-emphasis on identification of people as opposed to just finding people.

      - a certainly legitimate concern to save live at sea.

      1. GnuTzu

        Re: Surveillance?

        I have no objection to the legitimate use of such technology. In fact, I would advocate for such. My comment is simply a question of what constitutes legitimate use and whether such concerns should more explicitly examined and addressed. See, I would never assume that your position constituted a support of an oppressive, dystopian surveillance state. So, I won't engage in the kinds of assumptions that would lead to that kind of name calling. Cooler heads need to prevail given the state of things.

        1. JLV

          Re: Surveillance?

          We’re talking about a search and rescue technology. The _only_ thing you had to say about it was a “clever” burb about surveillance state paranoia, in a context where that does not readily apply. And which was not mentioned in the article. Had you said anything else worthwhile or even technical as well, I’d have kept my mouth shut.

          Whether it will work or, as another poster remarks is an entirely different question. But I believe it worth investigating.

          FWIW, my area also sees frequent searches for lost hikers and skiers, not all of which have happy outcomes, so this is of particular interest even if wooded mountainous terrain SAR is very different.

          But always mixing polarized politics with engineering and science is getting tedious. Much as I share concern about erosion of civil liberties.

          1. GnuTzu

            Re: Surveillance?

            Good point about polarities (voted up). But, that's why I don't throw around pejoratives. BTW, pointing out that you find that kind of comment is tedious is well taken. That would have been a much better choice of words--that is, if you want to get away from polarization. Anyway, the engineering talk is interesting, and I agree that it's constructive and there should be plenty of it.

            1. JLV

              Re: Surveillance?

              To be fair, you don't sound like a douche. Upvoted you too. But that post did annoy me because of the reasons mentioned. So lemme rather say the post was douchy and I do those too.

              I know a lot of us are also a bit cranky about yet another senseless set of killings, with one of them clearly attributable to fear-mongering when it comes to immigrants. I don’t see _this_ suited as border surveillance or privacy invading tech. But, yeah, tons of that crap making the rounds in general. Crime’s generally trending down, aside from mass shootings and those are only getting thoughts and prayers.

              p.s. don't make it a habit of upvoting disagree-ers. it’s weird.

              1. Kernel

                Re: Surveillance?

                " I don’t see _this_ suited as border surveillance or privacy invading tech."

                I do - I'm pretty sure it still happens that the RNZAF regularly sends an Orion around different parts of the NZ coast on low level flights, looking for illegal fishing boats, potential smuggling operations, etc.

                It seems to me that this technology could be very easily adapted (once the base S&R platform was developed) to provide coastal surveillance services at a much lower cost than a full-sized aircraft - or at the very least reduce the use of an expensive aircraft and crew to the followup investigation of suspicious boats spotted by the drone.

                1. JLV

                  Re: Surveillance?

                  An Orion is a very different beast than a 7kg drone with a 3hr loiter time and 5x5 mile or 1x10mi search capability. A swarm of these looks like a help to look for something nearby you know is somewhere there, within a short timeframe. I.e. a rescue search amplifier. Not something that will rescue. And not something that will watch large areas over long durations.

                  This is also very much more challenging than dropping a floatation device to visible nearby swimmers in calm weather.

                  The weather aspect is important as well. This needs to deal with conditions where you might assume smugglers would prefer to stay home.

                  1. Kernel

                    Re: Surveillance?

                    "An Orion is a very different beast than a 7kg drone with a 3hr loiter time and 5x5 mile or 1x10mi search capability. "

                    A 7Kg drone - I doubt it - think more like a specialised version of a military reconnaissance drone - more the size of a general aviation aircraft, but without the delicate meatbags inside it.

    2. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: Surveillance?


      The tools are just that. It is the intentions that use something with a great capacity for good and use it for bad. Those terms being relative to the people thinking about the problem.

      1. GnuTzu

        Re: Surveillance?

        Exactly. That's an unavoidable fundamental principal.

  2. JLV

    Good idea, as far as sea rescue goes.

    Now, don’t you find it funny that a _government_ technology project as innovative and edge-pushing as this has more likelihood to achieve success than say something as banal as an Armed Forces recruitment system, at a fraction of the cost? To a large extent that may be due to a different breed of providers. But one also has to wonder about the buyer-side project management differences.

    Now, I know nothing’s done yet. But mostly we’ve learned to expect failure at big backend/ERP government projects and have higher expectations with specialized technical/scientific IT. F35, along with a good deal of military procurement, being an obvious counterexample.

    1. MonkeyCee


      "something as banal as an Armed Forces recruitment system"

      Dumbest thing with that whole recruitment fiasco is that the most basic use case doesn't work.

      1. Bob wants to join the army

      2. Bob applies to join

      3. Bob passes background check

      4. Bob is offered the job

      5. Bob goes to basic

      6. Bob serves her country, ideally as Flashheart's driver

      Between steps 2 and 3, crapita takes ~9 months. Turns out Bob got another job in that time. And if Bob applies again, she has go through the same process.

      You could get any recruitment agency in, and they could manage that.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Crapita

        "as Flashheart's driver"

  3. GreyWolf

    MCA gone to pot over recent years

    This proposal shows once again that the MCA do not know what they are doing, spending scarce money they do not know how to use wisely, on ideas from desk jockeys who have never been to sea.

    When do you have to carry out sea search and rescue? When the weather is shit. How long does a drone last in shit weather? I'll be generous - less than 60 seconds. 10 seconds is more likely.

    I started worrying about safety at sea when the f**king MCA closed all the local Coastguard stations, destroying all the local knowledge. Now you phone some f**king call centre on the other side of the country and say "There's a boat sinking in Pennyhole Bay" and they have no fucking clue where that is, don't know whether to send a helicopter or scratch their arses.

    1. SonofRojBlake

      Re: MCA gone to pot over recent years

      "How long does a SHOP BOUGHT HOBBY drone last in shit weather? I'll be generous - less than 60 seconds. 10 seconds is more likely."

      Fixed it for you.

      Rather the point is that a drone that will work in this scenario does not (possibly) exist, but that it's not beyond the wit of man to build one. Or did you think some chancers were going to be able to trouser a million quid for slapping a paint job on a DJI Phantom?

      1. GreyWolf

        Re: MCA gone to pot over recent years

        "did you think some chancers were going to be able to trouser a million quid for slapping a paint job on a DJI Phantom?"

        And is that unrealistic, considering some of the tricks that have been pulled over the years? The MCA is not the sharpest knife in the government's drawer.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: MCA gone to pot over recent years

      "When do you have to carry out sea search and rescue?"

      One might argue that a use for this proposed drone might be to make it easier to locate tourists getting swept out to sea in rip tides on hot sunny, clear days. It would then need the ability to distinguish the difference between an occupied and an unoccupied inflatable toy....

  4. tfewster

    Built-in killswitch

    > The winning bidder is expected to deal with regulators like the Civil Aviation Authority and National Air Traffic Systems to make this possible.

    A government agency admits it can't deal with other government agencies and tries to outsource that part? I wouldn't touch that with a bargepole long enough to move the world.

  5. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    Haven't the Aussies already done something like this?

    More or less? As reported on this very site about 18 months ago?

    1. Denarius Silver badge

      Re: Haven't the Aussies already done something like this?

      Indeed, the noble Tridge was involved. Mind you, SAR over scrub is a lot less hostile to electronics and aircraft except for the 45C temperatures than maritime bad weather

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