Land Rover Project Hero: A drone-equipped Discovery could be the ultimate search-and-rescue vehicle

Land Rover and the Austrian Red Cross have teamed up to make a vehicle that could help save lives. Unveiled this week at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show, Project Hero is a bespoke drone and car combination that’s designed to work in the toughest disaster areas – from earthquakes to forest fires – and it’s being tested by the Red Cross this summer. Alphr spoke to Jaguar Land Rover’s special operations managing director, Jon Edwards, and SVO engineer Donal Phair to find out how the project took shape.

Land Rover Project Hero: How it happened

So how did Project Hero even begin? “There were some young guys in my business, young graduates, who responded to a brief from the CEO about technology for good,” says Edwards. “And they came up with the idea of a drone, and wouldn’t it be good if we could integrate a drone with a car? Could we get the drone to land on the car while it was moving, and what would be the implications?”


After that, the project took around 12 months to complete, and that’s partly because Project Hero was influenced by the Red Cross throughout the design process. For example, the Land Rover SVO team were concentrating on a camera-based drone, but the Red Cross also pushed for a microphone. “Having a microphone and being able to talk to someone that was trapped was actually just as important,” says Edwards. “Not a huge technical challenge – but we thought of it as eyes rather than ears.”

There were other factors, too. “Little things like lightning inside the car, just how important that can be,” Edwards adds. “There isn’t any power, it’s in the middle of the night – all sorts of minor things that really tailor the product for their use.”


Land Rover Project Hero: Landing the drone

At its heart, Project Hero is pretty much a stock Land Rover Discovery, and that’s something Edwards tells me he’s very proud of – since it shows the car’s inherent capability. That means the most noticeable difference between the new Project Hero Discovery and a stock model is the addition of a drone. Designed to semi-autonomously take off and land on the Discovery, it’s one of the most complex parts of Project Hero – but probably the most interesting.


“So essentially we have a vision-based automated system,” Donal Phair, one of the lead engineers for Project Hero, tells me. “So there’s a dedicated downward-facing camera that we use, there’s GPS in the front in the wind reflector of the drone dock, and that sort of feeds back to the drone to come and find the vehicle.

“Once it gets in range, the dock will open, and the drone will put up the target inside the dock like the camera and and use that target. It’s a commercially available drone, and we’ve just kind of developed some hardware and software on top of that.”


Land Rover Project Hero: Red Cross testing

Unlike many of the other concepts on the Geneva show floor, Project Hero has the potential to be useful in real life. Land Rover has already arranged to deliver the first car to the Austrian Red Cross in June or July, and if all goes to plan we could see Project Heroes being deployed by the Red Cross around the world.


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