Lost and Found: Replacing Miracles with AI – Chapter 2

Published on: April 2023

Expert Insight:
Replacing Miracles with AI – Chapter 2
Brent Bergan BD & Govt. Relations

AI is a Game Changer

There is a better way to find persons in the water (PIW) – ViDAR®.

My new found passion is helping to develop the next generation of sensors to save lives in the ocean. ViDAR® uses an array of full motion day and night video cameras spread out over a 180-degree field of view perfectly scanning the water with an AI brain that doesn’t tire, that doesn’t look the wrong way and is able to spot any anomaly in the water. ViDAR® peers over the open ocean and takes a snapshot of any anomaly and sends that picture to the mission operator. The mission operator then makes the decision to cross cue the on-board camera system to zoom in on the anomaly to identify the object.

And it just works.

Let’s compare the standard search versus a ViDAR® search in the example below. This example shows the helicopter search pattern; 4 nm by 4 nm just like we conducted for the missing diver. The USCG and the international SAR Community follows a standard visual search using a 0.1 nm track spacing. This pattern would take 1.89 hours to fly with 144.3 nm flown to completely fly the box, and you only cover 16 square miles of ocean.

Compare this to ViDAR® – two passes in 6 minutes, where ViDAR® covers 95.8% more area in 4.2% of the time, or put another way 18.9 times faster in covering the same search box.

The ViDAR® mission planning tool determines the sweep width for your altitude and airspeed. In the example below, the track spacing for ViDAR® was 2.0 nm, which enables ViDAR® to cover 180 square nautical miles per hour, a 20 times improvement over the traditional method of looking out the window.

Now, let’s take the SAR pattern example above and apply it to James Michael from the Cruise Ship Valor, with a search pattern spread out over 200 nm.

Immediately, the task of finding a PIW seems almost impossible. As reported by Inside Magazine, the USCG said the search area expanded to 7,000 square nautical miles, a staggering area the same size as Massachusetts!

Typically, helicopters fly SAR patterns for PIWs at 90 kts. Every hour the USCG helicopter was flying on this case using a track spacing of 0.1 nm, they would have covered 9 square miles. In this case, the U.S. Coast Guard made a great call starting the search from the moment James Michael left his group because that’s where he ended up being found.

Part of this search was simply requesting local vessels to keep a look out, and a passing merchant ship found James Michael treading water. A USCG H-60 was nearby, most likely conducting the same type of search I was conducting so many years before. Fortunately, the merchant ship made the detection and the H-60 diverted immediately, pulling him out of the water.

Here’s the thing – if that merchant ship didn’t find James Michael, the USCG was facing a 7,000 square nautical mile search area. You would have to follow the path of the cruise ship over 200 nm, and you would change the SAR box above, to a track line search, and fly that same pattern multiplied out over 200 nm. That’s where the 7,000 square nautical miles came from.

With one helicopter flying 9 square miles per hour – James Michael’s chance for rescue was very, very slim. Then, take my example of the lost diver: we were in the right area over the top of him, but we couldn’t find him. Change the traditional SAR methodology a bit for James Michael, use ViDAR® and you can cover 180 square miles per hour – 20 times greater coverage in the same hour.

Or put ViDAR® on a fixed wing asset, fly it higher and faster, and you can cover a lot of ground, and a lot of square miles.

About the author
Brent Bergan joined Sentient in July 2021 after retiring from the US Coast Guard following a 23 year career where he flew search and rescue helicopters for 13 years and worked in international affairs for eight years. He has written for aerospace media including the helicopter publication, Vertical Magazine, for 13 years.