SFU researcher develops new tech-savvy search and rescue system

PhD student Brennan Jones wants to lend a helping hand to the B.C. search and rescue volunteers he calls heroes.

The BC Search and Rescue Association says crews around the province responded to more than two thousand calls in 2021 – the Province’s highest total since the BCSARA started recording data.

"That’s one of the things that gets me excited to work with them, is their passion to save lives,” Brennan said.

"That sort of gives me passion to help them in whatever way I can to help them save lives.”

Working out of SFU’s School of Interactive Arts, Brennan developed a system involving 360-degree body cameras and live-streaming technology to assist search and rescue efforts.

"It’s called RescueCASTR,” said Brennan. “The acronym stands for Search and Rescue Contextual Awareness Streaming.”

Jones says current SAR methods rely mostly on audio technology such as the two-way radio. His system, however, would provide visual assistance in real-time.

"We sort of send search and rescue field teams in with body cameras which both record and live-stream visual contextual information about their surroundings and their safety,” said Jones. “Making communication easier and more efficient.”

Jones admits the live-streaming doesn’t work in all terrain due to connectivity issues, but says the cameras are always recording and still provide valuable information for investigators mapping out the area.

"It’s an interesting idea,” said Doug Pope, manager with North Shore Rescue. “I like the way it kind of puts a lot of information in one place."

Although most people were saved in 2021, the year still saw nearly 100 people discovered dead or never found at all. The BCSARA recently launched a video education series prior to what’s expected to be a busy May long-weekend outdoors.

“These videos will help hikers get prepared,” said Sandra Riches, executive director of the BC Adventure Smart Program.

Meanwhile, Jones says the RescueCASTR system is in the proof of concept phase and may be years away from implementation. Until then, SAR crews say the best way to avoid needing their help is to plan ahead and bring proper equipment on their adventure.