UAVs for Wilderness Search and Rescue: Real-World Considerations and Technology Roadmap for Fixed Wing UAVs

Ashvin Bashyam* and Jacob Guggenheim*
*Equal Contribution
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, USA


Wilderness search and rescue is predominantly conducted by ground based teams, however
its limitations have encouraged the use of alternative approaches. Aerial search and rescue provides
complementary capabilities as it has a higher areal coverage rate and can survey challenging terrain
that is not easily accessible. Helicopters and other manned aerial vehicles dominate aerial search, but
disadvantages, such as the need for highly trained personnel, slow response time, and high capital
requirements, limit their use.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capture the benefits of helicopters while overcoming many
of the associated drawbacks that limit their use for wilderness search and rescue. Here we demonstrate
the need for UAVs in wilderness search and rescue. We compare the two main types of UAVs—fixed
wing and rotary—along three performance factors, including flight range, image quality, and degree of
control over the flight path. Theoretical and practical considerations for fixed wing UAVs are explored.
Finally, we present practical technology ideas to improve the utility of both fixed wing and rotary UAVs.
This work offers an introduction to aerial search and rescue with UAVs, assesses real-world
tradeoffs between fixed wing and rotary UAVs, and presents a roadmap for further technology
development to advance this technology into the field.

KEYWORDS: UAVs, fixed wing UAVs, rotary UAVs, wilderness search and rescue, aerial search and

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