The HYBRiX can stay aloft for two to four hours, and after refueling is ready to take off again. In the background: Benidorm's Intempo skyscraper. Image: Quaternium

Spain’s Quaternium equips Benidorm police with long endurance c-drone, authorized for BVLOS

Emergency response Equipment & systems Security • law enforcement • countermeasures

Quaternium, a Spanish startup founded in 2013 by José Luis Cortés in València, has started a first responder pilot program with Policía Local de Benidorm featuring the HYBRiX.20 hybrid fuel-electric drone [video]. The city has approved a drone policy created with the assistance of the Universitat Politècnica de València. The project was presented at the CivilDrone conference in Madrid last month and the company hopes to benchmark how its drone is used by first responders in Benidorm for other police departments, in Spain and abroad.

Benidorm is a coastal city in the Comunidad Valenciana with 5km (3mi) of sandy Mediterranean beaches and sees its population swell from 70,000 to over 300,000 in the summer months, with many tourists visiting from the United Kingdom. Occasionally, tourists celebrating after a football (soccer) match create disturbances; in past summers, the police have leased helicopters to monitor traffic, the town center, the beaches, and the hilly backcountry (which is subject to fire danger) for illegal dumping, as well as for emergency search and rescue missions. However, the town found that helicopters were expensive to operate, noisy, and problematic for night flights.

In the summers of 2016 and 2017, the Benidorm police trialled a DJI Phantom 4 c-drone, launched from a boat to patrol the shoreline, or beyond the town to monitor the nearby Serra Gelada nature reserve for forest fires. The police were dissatisfied with that drone’s limited flight time of 20 minutes (including security margin) before needing a recharge, a common problem of today’s battery-powered small unmanned rotorcraft.

The HYBRiX is designed to fly for hours on end, without downtime for battery charging or swapping. Powered by a 2-stroke gasoline engine which charges the Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries, which themselves power the four rotors, the unit has a cruising speed of 50km/h (30 mph) with a maximum speed of 80 km/h (50 mph), is wind-resistant, and has a dual automatic/manual Flight Termination System (FTS) in case of technical incident. The fuel tank capacity is 5L (1.3 US gallons) of gasoline; the HYBRiX uses 1.8 to 2L (about 1/2 gallon) per hour with a full 4kg (9 lb) payload. An electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) camera is standard and the drone carries an ADS-B transponder for integration in Spain’s airspace.

The project, which has been funded in part by the European Union, has been embraced by the Benidorm city council, which unanimously adopted a new police drone policy [PDF in Spanish] at the end of last year. The policy classes the c-drone as an aircraft, authorizes day or night operations in Visual Meterological Conditions (VMC), and describes mission rules over three types of zones:

  1. Green (low-risk) areas: agricultural, forested, semiurban areas with scattered housing, and the maritime zone. Routine flights day and night in Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) with Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations in an emergency situation if authorized by the chief officer on duty, and only when the remote pilot’s ground station cannot move quickly to the incident site. Emergency landing zones and safe flight termination must avoid forested or remote areas due to the risk of fire if there is a crash.
  2. Yellow (medium-risk) areas: urban areas with detached single-family, low-height houses and designated campsite areas. Emergency flights day and night in VLOS if authorized by the chief officer on duty, and only when the remote pilot’s ground station cannot move quickly to the incident site. BVLOS operations may be carried out only as an exception. Emergency landing zones and safe flight termination must avoid camping areas.
  3. Red (high-risk) areas: urban areas with attached single-family buildings or tall buildings and concentrations of people. Serious emergency flights day and night in VLOS, only if authorized by the chief officer on duty. BVLOS flights only when strictly necessary and when the remote pilot’s ground station cannot move quickly to the incident site. Emergency landing areas are to be prepared with physical protection on the roofs of high-rise buildings every 1000m (.6mi), with prior consent of the property owner. The maritime zone will be established as a safe termination zone for the flight if it cannot safely land in any of the predefined emergency landing areas.

Concerning privacy, the policy cites existing laws on protection of personal data, personal image, and the use of video cameras by the security forces in public places. The policy stipulates that flights must be logged, per drone and per pilot.

Quaternium believes the long endurance of the HYBRiX — orders of magnitude longer than most c-drones on the market — without the need to swap batteries and maintain charging packs, plus the unit’s robustness in wind, make the drone ideally suited for first responders.

In a statement sent to The C-Drone Review, Alicia Fuentes, Quaternium CEO, said:

Quaternium is starting Pilot Programs with companies and entities from the USA, Asia and Europe in order to improve our process of research and innovation, with the objective of helping professionals worldwide to provide better service. With this first Pilot Program in Benidorm, Quaternium will gain deeper knowledge of the different operational scenarios that first responders must face during their workday, so we can set the best configuration of HYBRiX.20 according to customer needs. In addition to this, the Pilot Program enables closer contact and feedback with the operators of the HYBRiX.20, who will get technical support and training. The Quaternium Pilot Programs are already on the move with HYBRiX.20, to improve emergency services around the world.

A recent UK study found that the public would look more favorably on drones when used by first responders compared to package delivery. The Chula Vista, California police department recently won an award for its innovative use of drones, and the New York Police Department launched its fleet of drones in December.