'Drones' saving lives thanks to Central Texas non-profit - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

'Drones' saving lives thanks to Central Texas non-profit

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Gene Robinson with the non-profit RP Search Services in Wimberley prefers not to use the "D-Word" -- Drone.

He prefers "Unmanned Aircraft" and even though the technology is getting a bad rap, he's hoping that will change.

"Unfortunately, all we ever see is the predator. That's the stock footage that everyone uses of the predator and many times, they're armed," Robinson said.

But not these.

Weighing only around four pounds, these little guys can send live video to help firefighters know where a wildfire is or take high-resolution photographs to help locate a missing person.

And for several years, Texas Equusearch has been using RP Services to help with search and rescue.

Robinson says they can cover more area than 100 foot searchers in a shorter amount of time and see objects as small as six inches.

"We cannot read the newspaper on the dash of your car. But we can see a tennis shoe...we can see a T-shirt," Robinson said.

He says they've been to 29 states and four countries and they've made 10 confirmed recoveries.

But ever since 2007, with the exception of recreational flights, if you want to fly an unmanned aircraft legally, you'll have to ask the FAA for a certificate of authorization...something that could take anywhere from 60 days to 6 months.

"So as you can imagine, on a search when you have a child that's lost in the woods and has been out there for eight hours and it's cold, it's very difficult to wait even five minutes," Robinson said.

Robinson says they can ask for an emergency authorization, as they have many times since 2007, but occasionally, the FAA has still pulled them off of searches -- questioning whether the situation was truly life or death.

It's a policy he's hoping will be reversed to allow the smaller unmanned aircraft to fly.

"This is an expendable piece of equipment. This has no worth in comparison to a life. So we are willing to throw this one up and do what is necessary to save a life," Robinson said.

He tells us they're typically called after searchers have exhausted all other resources and they usually end up finding something.

So he says he hopes in the future, they will be called out sooner so they can really start making a difference in search and rescue.

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