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S. Korea to expand use of drones to delivery, life-saving missions

All Headlines 06:00 November 17, 2016

SEOUL, Nov. 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korean firefighters may soon start using drones in their search and rescue missions, while remote controlled drones may also help save lives by airlifting much needed medicine and other emergency supplies to people in areas often stranded by seasonal floods or heavy snowfall, the government said Thursday.

One such area is Yeongwol, a vast county of about 40,000 people located 204 kilometers east of Seoul in Gangwon Province.

Situated along the Taebaek Mountain Range, Yeongwol is one of the most remote areas in the country, while the high mountains surrounding the county make it nearly impossible to find a missing person on foot, should there be any, officials from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport noted.

Officials examine a fixed wing drone used in the demonstration of a drone-based search and rescue mission held in Yeongwol, South Korea on Nov. 16, 2016. (Photo courtesy of transportation ministry)

However, rescue workers there will soon use drones instead of mobilizing a search and rescue mission to locate hikers or tourists lost in the woods.

Once the rescue center receives a distress call from any of its residents or visitors, it will dispatch a 3.5-kilogram fixed-wing drone that will feed the center with live video images of any area within the county.

It will be followed by a 4-kilogram rotary wing drone, equipped with an infrared camera that can help pinpoint the exact location of a missing person, the ministry said.

If necessary, a heavier and more powerful drone will deliver up to 10 kilograms of emergency relief supplies, buying the person in distress more time until actual help can get to the person.

S. Korea to expand use of drones to delivery, life-saving missions - 2

"The demonstration confirmed the possibility of utilizing and commercializing drones in various applications that include logistics and search & rescue missions," a ministry official said, following a stimulated demonstration of drone-based research and rescue mission staged in Yeongwol on Wednesday.

"The government will continue to develop new business areas that can utilize drones while supporting the overall development and commercialization of the drone industry through deregulation."

The drones operated by the rescue center may also be used to detect and monitor forest fires, the ministry official noted.

Already, there were 962 companies as of end-October that have registered their use of drones for their business.

More than half of those firms use drones to create visual content, while other 24.5 percent are currently engaged in the agriculture industry, using drones to spray herbicide or other chemicals, according to the ministry.

To test the possibility of using drones for delivery services, CJ Korea Express, the country's largest logistic firm, launched test services at the start of this month in Yeongwol. The test includes two weekly deliveries of items, less than 1 kilogram in weight, within county-limits.

The file photo, taken on July 21, 2016, shows a drone spraying agricultural chemicals at a farm in the western port city of Incheon, South Korea. (Yonhap)


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