18th March, 2017
By ASWAN YAP
Of the many unsung heroes, it is search and rescue teams that sometimes have to deal with the toughest situations. For the Austrian Red Cross teams, they have to traverse mountainous terrain and snow before they can even arrive at a disaster site – and that alone narrows down their vehicle options significantly. Of course, something that can go off-road is highly necessary, but being rugged is just one aspect of what makes a vehicle well suited to the task.
Land Rover seeks to make things safer and better for such heroes with Project Hero. This is a one-off (at this time) vehicle conversion which specifically meets the needs of such rescue personnel and uses the latest Land Rover Discovery.
Project Hero was undertaken by the Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) team at Jaguar Land Rover which normally develops vehicles for higher performance. In this case, they used their expertise to find innovative ideas that can help the Austrian Red Cross personnel do their job better and in safety.
Since 1954, Land Rover has supplied 120 vehicles to the Red Cross in order to aid their rescue efforts around the world, and each time the vehicles have been further developed with the purpose of rescue in mind.
The key to an effective rescue operation is quick response, allowing teams to arrive at a disaster zone without lengthy travel times. This may mean going off normal routes to find ways around to get to the site, hence a capable vehicle like the Discovery is ideal with its proven 4×4 system.
Project Hero is meant as more than just an emergency vehicle, as it also functions as a communications and broadcast station for video footage. It can serve as a command vehicle from which team leaders can direct operations, providing proper coordination and organisation that is often crucial to success.
In areas like Austria, the terrain can change quickly during disasters. Snowfall and avalanches may make roads inaccessible and therefore existing maps are rendered redundant. This led the SVO team to consider aerial surveillance through the use of a drone. As drones are increasingly popular nowadays, this is a solution that is as good as using a helicopter (which may not always be available).
A drone is easy to transport and as it is not piloted by a human, it can be sent ahead even to areas that may be hazardous in terms of air pollution. Even as the vehicle is in motion, the drone can take off and scout ahead, to observe the emergency scene from a safe distance and allow teams to devise a plan to rescue survivors.
The drone is largely autonomous as drone technology has become in this day and age, but Land Rover has still chosen to incorporate a few extra features that help with drone operation. On the roof is a proper fully-integrated landing system that allows for self-centering and magnetic retention to keep the drone in place while navigating rougher roads. This also allows the drone to take off and land while the vehicle is in motion, hence not hampering progress in the process.
Besides this, Land Rover has also included a few items to improve Project Hero’s functionality in the field. Under the rear load space is a heavy-duty siding floor that can be deployed as an additional work surface or used to protect the load that is carried underneath. As per the norm in rescue vehicles, there is a segregation panel that separates the cabin from the cargo area which also doubles as additional mounting points for equipment.
LED lighting on the roof and around the car helps to improve night vision, which one finds especially useful when navigating in pitch black conditions and being unable to see the surroundings clearly. Power supply points are strategically placed as well and can accept different plugs from different regions.
As a communications vehicle, it is also important to have high quality radio equipment that can operate on multiple frequencies in order to allow communication between various parties. While Project Hero is going to undergo testing and will be based in the Austrian region, there are plans to roll it out to other regions- hence the need to have flexibility in terms of communications and power supply. Through its year of testing, Project Hero will also undergo simulations to see how the drone functions at night and in dense forest situations in order to improve the versatility of the vehicle.
For the next 12 months, Land Rover will be testing Project Hero in conjunction with the Austrian Red Cross and their findings and solutions may eventually be used for other vehicles around the world.