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Improving visibility from helicopters during life-saving offshore search-and-rescue missions

  • Safety & Security
  • Imaging
  • Multispectral

Ocean Insight teamed with Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, to engineer a flight-certified, pan-tilt camera system to help helicopter rescue crews scan the ocean horizon and identify ships in distress

Challenge

Search-and-rescue (SAR) operations present coast guards worldwide with the critical task of saving lives and recovering property. The U.S. Coast Guard carries out nearly 20,000 SAR missions each year.

The challenge of navigating successful SAR missions continues to intensify, as increasing traffic from commercial vessels and pleasure craft marks our waterways.

Helicopter rescue teams depend on simple, effective, reliable SAR tools that meet demanding regulatory standards, have minimal maintenance needs and operate safely

Insight

Although cameras have been used on aircraft for decades, until the last few years no such option for helicopters existed that met the stringent flight certification standards for rotary wing aircraft. This gap presented an additional burden for Sikorsky’s government, military and commercial customers involved in SAR, where every available resource is a potential life-saver.

With experience in designing customized systems for rigorous industrial environments, and accustomed to engineering solutions to exacting standards, we believed we could develop a simple, flightworthy camera setup for helicopters that would help save more lives.

The biggest challenge of this project was the pace of the testing, and being able to rapidly engineer new solutions as problems arose, without invalidating previous testing.

Matt Kremens - Ocean Insight

Solution

Ocean Insight worked with Sikorsky to define the parameters of the camera system, which needed to scan the horizon for ships, zoom in and identify them, and record the images. Regulatory standards for airworthiness imposed additional physical and electronic requirements. 

Within those constraints, plus development timelines and budget considerations, Ocean Insight re-engineered off-the-shelf components originally designed for stationary use – a high-definition camera with pan-tilt gimbal and joystick controller – into a system certified to aircraft testing standards and environmental conditions. From project inception to a fully qualified system took less than a year. 

After dozens of missions, hundreds of hours of flight time and many lives saved, only two camera systems have ever needed maintenance, and those setups were involved in natural disasters. Sikorsky’s first customer for the system had such a positive experience that other coast guard organizations have expressed interest in this life-saving technology.

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