Testing a drone to save lives in the Mediterranean

Three students from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya · BarcelonaTech (UPC) are participating, together with the Hemav Foundation, in the FREEDA project, in which they are developing an offshore reconnaissance drone to search for people and boats. The aim is to improve Proactiva Open Arms rescue missions. The first test to check the operation of the drone on the NGO’s ship was recently carried out offshore from Borriana (Castellón).

Jul 02, 2019

The FREEDA project aims to develop an offshore reconnaissance drone to search for people and boats, with the intention of improving humanitarian rescue missions by the NGO Proactiva Open Arms. The initiative is promoted by the Hemav Foundation, a non-profit organisation that expands the activity of the Spanish technological company Hemav through social, humanitarian and environmental innovation projects. Three students from the UPC are participating in this initiative: two from the Castelldefels School of Telecommunications and Aerospace Engineering (EETAC) and one from the Terrassa School of Industrial, Aerospace and Audiovisual Engineering (ESEIAAT).

After more than a year of research and development, on 25 and 26 May the Hemav Foundation and Proactiva Open Arms conducted their first offshore test in Borriana (Castellón) to check drone operations on the NGO’s ship. Sergi Tres, the project coordinator and a UPC graduate, stated that “our main objective was to test the drone’s landings, check the range of the telecommunications system and create a database of aerial photographs to train the artificial intelligence programme that we have developed for automatic ship detection”.

The tests have proved decisive for the future development of the FREEDA project and the Hemav Foundation and Proactiva Open Arms plan to apply the drones to the NGO’s rescue missions. Ricardo Sandoval, the captain of the Open Arms ship, states that “the support of the drones in our search and rescue tasks will be of great help to increase the monitored area. We hope to have them operating as soon as possible”.

The use of drones will be a boost to Proactiva Open Arms rescue tasks, since they can fly long distances and thus extend the monitored area. In fact, by simultaneously working with several platforms they could virtually have the SAR (search and rescue) zone in Libya, in the Mediterranean, under constant surveillance. Additionally, using FREEDA’s drone will help to detect boats more quickly and alert the rescue teams in time.


The drone has built-in software that allows it to fly autonomously from the NGO’s ship over long distances and capture images with a temperature sensor. These images are automatically processed and instantly sent to the crew on the Proactiva Open Arms ship. The drone also sends information about the course, position and speed of the detected boats.

Collaboration of young talent
The Hemav Foundation relies on the collaboration of 12 UPC students for developing its projects, such as FREEDA, in which the following students are involved: Francesc Viaplana, a student on the bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Vehicle Engineering at the ESEIAAT; Azamat Kinzyabaev, a student on the bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Systems Engineering, major in Air Navigation, at the EETAC; and Eloy Peña, a student on the master’s degree in Aerospace Science and Technology at the EETAC. The students are collaborating in this project in the framework of their bachelor’s and master’s degrees, respectively. The UPC’s Centre for Development Cooperation, the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona, the Banc Sabadell Foundation and the Alexandre Catalan Foundation directly collaborate in this project as well.

The Hemav Foundation is also working with the social business Worldcoo in its search for a new partner with which to implement its Solidary Rounding-Up initiative, which would allow customers to round up the final amount of their shopping at partner stores and contribute to a social cause by donating the remainder to the FREEDA project—an economic boost that will help bring the project to life.