Search and Rescue Challenge

The DC Area Drone User Group will be holding it's first ever search and rescue challenge. The purpose of this event is 1) as a test run to see what capabilities we have within the group that might be of use to search and rescue professionals in the future 2) to help develop and enhance our capabilities in this regard and 3) to have fun. We encourage you to start putting together teams and working up your equipment now to be ready to participate in this event. Spectators are welcome, but the priority at the event will be working with participating teams.

We will seek to mimic a lost person situation by scattering mannequins, clothes, and personal effects around a wide area. Teams will collect imagery of the area and have 45 minutes after flying to analyze the imagery to see if they can identify where the mannequins and lost items are. There will be a point system for finding different items. 

We are also going to have a rescue component to this contest. Once the location of the mannequins are located teams will be able to earn extra points by dropping a small first aid kit and/or small water bottle within 25 feet of the mannequin. You do not need to participate in the rescue element of this competition to be competitive for the search effort, and we may be able to provide some equipment to help with the delivery for teams that are unable to devise their own. We will provide additional information about this as we get closer to the event.

First prize will be bragging rights and $75 worth of equipment from your choice of RC Timer or Hobby King. There may also be additional prizes if others want to donate to this effort. If you are willing to donate to either the prizes or to purchase items for the event such as mannequins, please email [masked] . 

Please make a note in the comments section below if you are planning to put together a team. We are also looking for volunteers to assist with the event, so please let us also know in the comments if you are willing to help out.

The contest rules are based on the highly successful North Texas Drone User Group search and rescue challenge. They are detailed below, but may change slightly as we get closer to the event. 

---Challenge Details---

1)  Each team may be comprised of no more than 3 persons.  We recommend at least two for safety but solo operators are welcome.  

2) All specifics as to the Missing Objects we will be searching for will be relayed to each team the day of the event.

3)  Each team will have a setup period where they will not fly but they can do anything else.  This will be referred to as the Pre-Flight phase. Immediately following the Pre-Flight period the team will have ONE HOUR to conduct their search, referred to as the Flight Hour.  Use your time wisely!

4)  Prior to start, each team will submit in written form a flight plan report to the Contest Directors.  On this one sheet of paper include: 

Names of team members, your drone type, all major components on-board your drone, which frequencies you use and what channels they are on and describe your general plan on how you intend to search.  This doesn't need to be very detailed but we need to know what is in the air and the frequencies so we can DE-conflict them. 

 5)  The flight ceiling will be 350ft, floor will be 20ft.  Busting these limits for periods of time lasting over 1 minute will result in point reduction or disqualification.

6)  You may only have one drone in the air per team at a time.

7)  Put your name, address and phone number somewhere on your drone in case it gets away from you.

8)  Crashes will not disqualify you.  Bad launches and poor landings do not count as crashes.  You will know when you have crashed when you cannot relaunch or repair it in time to beat the one hour allotted for flying.  If your drone makes it back to the staging area you may prep or repair for the next launch if you have time.  You may also use whatever data that may be salvageable but once you personally leave the takeoff/landing staging area you may not conduct any further searches.  Please make sure the Contest Directors know that you need to retrieve your drone before leaving the staging area. If you find Missing Objects while going to retrieve your drone we suggest not saying anything. 

9)  An object is considered found when you can say what color or shape it is and be able to point to its approximate location on a Google map.  For example, you can say “red item” or “shoe” or “body” or “tent” and it will count if you can give a location good enough for those on foot to find it.  No one will be in the field on foot during the contest except those retrieving their crashed drones.

10)  Found objects will count as points. Until the day of the competition it is undetermined exactly what the items will be, but they will reflect real SAR items and situations and be fitting to the missing subjects’ description. The team with the most points wins.  Ties will be broken based on who concludes their search first by DECLARING to a Contest Director that they are done with the Flight Hour.

11) You have ONE HOUR after you have concluded your search (declared done or not) to report Missing Objects to a Contest Director to receive points.  This is referred to as the Post-Processing Period. 

12) IF we have enough contestants we will consider staggering take-offs by 5-10 minutes per team.  If we have a lot of teams we may limit take offs to 3 per hour and just extend the contest time. 

---Points Awarded---

1 point for accomplishing:

- Auto takeoff (Multi-Rotor or Fixed Wing) 1 point limit

- Auto landing (Multi-Rotor or Fixed Wing) 1 point limit

- Finding a minor search article “shoe, bag, hat, etc.” by declaring its color, no point limit

- Finding a minor search article “shoe, bag, hat, etc.” by correctly declaring exactly what it is, no point limit

- Identifying any form of tracks made by an animal, human or machine. 1 point limit

- Identifying any livestock (cows, chickens, horses etc.) 1 point limit

- Identifying fenced areas and/or unmarked roads (unmarked on Google maps) 1 point limit

3 points for accomplishing:

- Finding major search articles  such as body, clothes, etc. 

Penalties (deductions):

Minus 2 points for crashing in a way that you can not continue.

Minus 5 points for busting 400 feet at any time.

Minus 3 points for busting 375 feet for more than 1 minute.

Minus 3 points for busting the floor limit of 20 feet for more than 1 minute (except for landings!).

Minus 10 points for flying over spectators, second offense is automatic disqualification, DON'T DO IT.

---Mandatory Onboard and Functioning Equipment for Your Drone---

1) A method of stabilization 

2) Have a Return to Launch/Home option enabled and activatable by a hand held transmitter AND a Ground Control Station

3) Live telemetry feed

4) Failsafe: Return to Launch/Home upon sustained loss of connection to the Ground Control Station (20 seconds is long enough, shorter if you want)

---Other things to know/consider---

1)  The size of the search area will be fair to the short range of multi-rotors as well as the long range ability of fixed wing.

2)  No object will require you to fly into or close to other objects such as trees in order to see it.

3)  Objects will be “pre-organized” into Major and Minor objects but a list of the objects will not be made known to participants.


This event could be dangerous to life and limb.  We all know that propellers can cut skin and remove limbs.  You must make every reasonable effort to make your drone as safe as you know how to make it.  Do NOT fly over people, keep your drone in the search field area.  If you think you are going to crash, do so as safely as you can. 

We may adjust the rules as we get closer to the event. Please note that in a real world SAR situation no one should ever fly any equipment except at the request of professional first responders. 

Thank you, and we look forward to your participation. 

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  • Patrick M.

    Hi All, here's a write-up on the Search & Rescue Challenge, with lots of pictures/videos:

    Happy to add more content if you'd like, just let me know. I'll be sharing the link with humanitarian colleagues later in the week.

    Thanks to everyone who participated, and to MadCap Farm for hosting us and of coursed to Timothy for the MC'ing!

    3 · May 20

  • Ryan H.

    Payload drop demonstration.

    1 · May 20

  • Scott

    Great event! I was wondering if the teams could post somewhere what their setup was, whether or not they thought it was adequate for the application, and some key takeaways/improvements/ideas that could help people who want to get started using UAS in SAR? I'm sure many people would be interested.

    1 · May 18

    • Ryan H.

      My setup:
      DJI F550
      Naza V2
      DJI iOSD mini
      DJI 2.4ghz datalink
      iPad Ground Station
      Turnigy 3S 5000mah x2 in parallel
      Immersion RC 5.8ghz 600mw tx
      Immersion RC 5.8ghz rx
      Fat Shark Dominator goggles with 5.8ghz rx module
      Tarot t-2D gimbal
      GoPro 3 Silver
      Sony 600VTL FPV camera
      Hobby King 3 way video switch
      AMOD GPS Data Logger
      10X4.5 APC Props

      Our strategy was to have an automated grid pattern flight at 9mph while the GoPro was pointed straight down and shooting 11MP still pics every 5 seconds. Between battery changes, the camera memory card was switched out for a new one while the just used card was offloaded and scrubbed for clues using FastStone image viewing software. (Free BTW).

      2 · May 18

    • Andrew S. S.

      Great details. This really helps those of us interested in competing next time.

      May 19

  • Todd W.

    So I went back to MadCap farm Sunday and spent 3+ hrs. trying to recover my plane using my Hi-Tech recovery system (a tennis ball, fishing line, ropes and a Chuck-it). In the end I was able to get her down. The plane is repairable only loss was my video antenna and the lipos. Thanks again Nate for all the help getting her down.

    7 · May 19

    • Gustavo Z.

      Congratulations! I'm glad to hear you recovered the plane!
      So I guess the SAR for the plane was more dificult than the offical SAR event ;-)
      Just in time before the rains predicted for this week

      May 19

    • Ryan H.

      Glad she's back home!

      May 19

  • Dom

    Neat event. Nice group of folks.

    May 19

  • Axel

    very interesting, very helpful, and so friendly !

    May 18

  • Jordan E.

    Yes, it would be great to get an after-action report, "hotwash", etc. We should build a knowledge base of best practices. I can see eventually a drone chapter added to the NIMS ICS.

    So what worked? What didn't? What are rules of thumb, and best practices, etc?

    May 18

  • Nate

    Looking for any aerial images of the farm that we may use to post on the MadCap farm Facebook page.

    May 18

    • Ryan H.

      Uploaded three. Hope you can use them!

      May 18

  • Ryan H.

    What a fantastic event today. I want to thank everyone again for organizing, hosting, and sharing this wonderful challenge. One Direction thanks you too! (Obviously, they went the WRONG direction) We are looking forward to another event and hope to see you again!

    2 · May 17

  • Jose C.

    This was really an invaluable learning experience, thanks to the organizers and the teams that participated.

    1 · May 17

  • A former member
    A former member

    I may try and make this one... SAR is something my wife wants me to check out (she is a 911 dispatcher)
    I do have concerns over the previous experiences I had with this group in the lack of control over frequency mayhem... I do not see much success if it is a wild west of hobbyists all playing with their radios and r/c gear on the ground while people are in the air trying to accomplish a search... I know this may come off as preachy and judgmental, but I'll be honest folks in DCDUG... I don't mind loosing my gear because I was at fault- but not due to some hobbyists on the ground who cannot take the time to learn or respect the fact that there are birds in the air. I know the meetup I went to was a loose affair- but it set the tone for me to be very wary.

    May 12

    • Matt

      Award winner right there.

      May 16

    • A former member
      A former member

      Very funny Ken... but remember, looks ain't everything.

      May 16

  • Alex L.

    I'm new to this group and a beginner with multi rotors. I would love to help in anyway or just observe.

    May 12

    • Andrew S. S.

      I'm going as a spectator. I suspect others are as well.

      May 12

    • zinger

      Ditto, I've just started flying so my skills aren't good enough for the challenge, but I look forward to meeting others and checking out their gear.

      May 12

  • Nate

    I just mowed the 65 acre farm, sure does look Purdy. Looking forward to a fun event with you all this Saturday.

    2 · May 12

  • Martin W.

    Any idea how long people will be there? I plan to come out but I'm instructing in gliders at KFRR and don't know when I can get away. Learning about this area of aviation; hopefully I can

    May 12

    • Ken

      As of now, I think there are 5 teams in the contest. Only the teams in the challenge will be flying aircraft. The first team is starting at 0930. Each team gets 1 hour to complete their attempt. I guess there will be a slight break for lunch. 5 teams, 5 hours, lunch break 1 hour or so, I would think all the SAR flying will not be done till 1500 or so.

      May 12

  • Curt W.

    How did it go?

    May 10

  • Thomas

    So how many teams so far?

    May 3

  • PhillySpaceMan

    Anybody looking for an extra body for a team?

    April 26

  • Depeep

    Would it be OK to bring my 2 sons who might think this is really cool? Not sure how/if we could contribute as team members. We live in Hawaii during part of theyrar,and believe me this concept could really help people who get lost on hikes or get trapped near high water.

    April 23

    • Timothy R.

      Families are always welcome at all DC DUG events.

      April 25

  • Michael E.

    Do we know what the weight of the payload is for the water bottle/first aid kit?

    1 · April 22

    • Steve

      Matt, that may or may not be the case. I think you may be assuming a scenario where the UAV is deployed by private citizen volunteers and not an agency. I'm not making any assumptions in terms of who. There are plenty of situations where there may be a need to control bleeding from an open fracture or other injury after the first few minutes. An improvised tourniquet that is not 100% effective can be supplemented by something brought in. There's no absolutes. Maybe all that's needed is some paracord to help make an improvised splint. It's all going to vary, but the altoids first aid kit is not going to be relevant.

      I do agree that there are other things that can be useful, such as communications tools. I was simply responding to the question of what would be appropriate for the first aid kit specifically mentioned as a requirement. Perhaps Patrick or the other organizers may want to add a scenario for a VHF/UHF radio or SPOT/InReach device.

      April 25

    • Steve

      I do have to disagree with you with the general statement that a ground team or real helicopter will be able to reach a victim quickly after located by a UAV. There are plenty of conditions, from limited resources (people or equipment), weather conditions, time of day, or difficulty in accessing a location that could delay the arrival of rescuers. For example, there are situations where rescuers need to climb up a vertical face to reach a victim. That's not something that will typically be attempted at the end of a day with fading light due to the risk to rescuers. In inclement conditions, I would view a UAV as a potentially disposable resource given certain risk/benefit considerations.

      April 25

  • Michael E.

    I will need 1 more person for my team. You can reach me at [masked] if you are interested.

    April 12

  • Matt

    This is a brilliant event! The topic is near and dear to my heart since I was a FF/EMT for 13 years before moving down here for work. Ever since I started this UAV hobby this spring, the gears in my head have been turning on this topic. I wish I was better equipped and experienced to participate. Hopefully this will only be the first of many.

    April 12

  • Michael E.

    I'll be competing, and could possibly have room for 1 or 2 folks on my team.

    April 4

  • Mike L

    Looking for a team to join. I'm a new member to the user group (joined this week) and have not had opportunity to attend an event yet. Very interested in this challenge and the future utilization of drones for search/rescue operations.

    March 28

  • Christopher V.

    Shouldn't one of the contest coordinators be responsible for retrieving a lost / crashed drone from the contest area?

    March 27

  • Jordan E.

    Who's forming a team? Need a teammember?

    March 26

  • Louis R.

    Can't wait!

    March 24

  • Ken W.

    As Emeril might say: "Let's kick it up a notch".
    The drones might drop a beacon (Estimote) loaded with salient info, discovered at a "find", and move to the next "find", repeating process. The beacon broadcasts and ground support nails the location quickly. Ground support uses Google Glass med support to proctor appropriate treatment. ARES provides umbrella coms, depending on simulation. Move over DARPA

    1 · March 24

  • Louis R.

    Can't wait!

    March 24

  • Patrick M.

    ps. If anyone wants to use MicroMappers to crowdsource the tagging of UAV imagery (like the search for Malaysia Flight 370), then please let me know:

    Using Crowd Computing to Analyze UAV Imagery for Search & Rescue Operations

    1 · March 24

  • Patrick M.

    Excited about this, thanks for letting me co-organize this with you, Timothy!

    March 24

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