Blue Jay en de brandweer. Foto | Rien Boonstoppel

Drone Blue Jay leads the way

A drone able to lead the residents of a care home to the emergency exit in the event of fire, while the fire service is on the way. With this aim in mind, student team Blue Jay is collaborating with the fire service and residential care facility Sint Joris in Oirschot. Last Friday the team reported its progress during its - online - Interim Event.

In its sixth incarnation, Blue Jay is basing its plans on an idea dreamt up by last year's team, explains PR manager Luuk Baltissen. “The fire service thought it was a good plan and sponsors liked it, too. So we decided against doing something entirely new and instead thought we would develop this concept .”

The plan is for the drone to be stationed in the care home on standby and to take on the role of emergency first responder, as it were, in the event of a fire. “For lack of staff, there is often only one nurse present at night, and this individual is required by the protocol to quickly leave the building to get help,” explains Baltissen. “Our drone will go in search of the fire, then try and guide the residents in that section to the exit.”

Fire alarms

The team is working in cooperation with residential care facility Sint Joris in Oirschot and now also has links with Mansveld, the company responsible for the facility's fire alarms and fire doors. This collaboration is necessary because it is hoped that via WiFi, the drone will be informed by the fire alarm exactly where the fire is located, which will save the airborne responder having to search all the rooms. In addition, all the fire doors should close when a fire starts, in order to contain the spread. “This is another issue we will be discussing with Mansveld,” confirms Baltissen. “Ultimately, you want to fire doors to open for the drone.”

Also covered during the online Interim Event (watch here) were a couple of technical innovations. The drone has been made quieter and lighter so that it can stay airborne for longer (now six to eight minutes), the propellers have guards to prevent injury and damage in the event of a collision, and the drone has been given a more expressive ‘face’ by adding pupils to its onscreen eyes. The drone uses its eyes to make contact with the people it is trying to rescue, Baltissen explains. “The eyes need to make the drone appear friendly. The last thing you want is for the residents of the care home to be alarmed by the drone.”

In view of this, Blue Jay is keen for the residents to be introduced to the drone, but obviously with corona restrictions in place this is difficult. “We hope we can pay a visit at the end of April; by then all the residents and staff should have been vaccinated. And before then, perhaps the residents can be introduced to the drone by a nurse we are in contact with.”

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Video | Bigfootage

Blue Jay 6.1 in action

Video | Bigfootage

In the meantime, the Blue Jay team is thinking about adding a form of communication to the drone. If it could talk it could make its intentions clearer. The drone app also needs work. It needs a map showing the airborne rescuer's location. Furthermore, there are plans for a base station for the drone so that it can always set off with a fully charged battery. Not that Baltissen expects the current team to be able to make all these improvements.

And so he hopes that some of the team will stay on for another year. “That's important for the sake of continuity. Even if all the knowledge is well documented, it takes a new team member a fair amount of time to get up to speed.” And with a bit of luck the team will be able to meet up again in person after the summer. With corona in the picture, the Blue Jay team members have been seeing each other mostly online. “Back in September all twenty-plus of us got together in a large lecture theater, but since then no more than five of us have been allowed meet at any one time in our room in the Momentum building. Our team spirit is still buoyant, but obviously this situation isn't good for motivation.”

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