The LARUS Project, TU Dortmund University

Runner Up for the IMRF Award for Innovation & Technology

The Larus Project from TU Dortmund University was nominated in the Innovation and Technology category for their SAR drone. It is widely acknowledged that drones have enormous potential in supporting maritime SAR operations, but there has been a lack of affordable, non-military systems that can withstand the challenging weather conditions over the sea.

The LARUS research project (2016-2019) has succeeded in developing and extensively testing an unmanned aerial system (UAV) specifically adapted to the needs of maritime SAR services. The UAV can carry different payloads simultaneously, for example, cameras, various transponders (LTE-HoD, FLARM, AIS) and a TinyLTE, which can set up a mobile cellular service at the site of operation. This allows contact to be made with persons in distress outside the coverage area of the public LTE network.

Extensive practical trials have been conducted to investigate the SAR drone’s interoperability with a SAR helicopter, among other things. The safe integration of the LARUS UAV into the airspace and a total of more than 1,200 km of BVLOS flight distance over the Baltic Sea have also made the project known beyond Germany.

With its flight time of up to three hours and proven weather resistance of up to 7 Beaufort, the LARUS system has an exceptionally high potential to benefit SAR operations at sea in the future.

Overall, the LARUS project has impressively demonstrated the innovation potential that can arise from interdisciplinary collaboration between end users, universities, and small and medium-sized enterprises.

The systematic analysis of the operating conditions and requirements of the participating maritime SAR service provided the basis for a practical assistance system. Because the consortium cooperated with the responsible regulatory authorities and ministries, it was possible for the first time in Germany to comprehensively test an unmanned aerial system with these performance parameters in uncontrolled airspace.

In this way, the nature conservation authorities, among others, were also able to investigate the effect of the flight system on the wildlife in the national park.

The positive results obtained form an important basis for operating this or comparable systems in maritime rescue operations throughout the country in the future. In addition to the technical innovations of the research and development project, the consortium has also succeeded in removing most of the relevant regulatory hurdles, thus contributing towards an essential basis for the future use of drones to save human lives.