Drones: Swiss Researchers Developed a Software For Drones to Search for Lost Hikers

By Staff Writer

Feb 15, 2016 03:45 AM EST

Swiss researchers developed a drone that can autonomously navigate through forest trails, which could be used to search lost hikers. The function lies in the Artificial Intelligence software incorporated to the drones. 

The new search and rescue technology was developed by a group of Swiss researchers from the Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence, the University of Zurich, and NCCR Robotics. The research was meant to be a preliminary process to develop the technology that could be used in parallel with human rescue teams to search and rescue lost hikers.

According to EPFL, Switzerland receives about 1000 emergency calls from hikers every year. Most of them were injured or have lost their way. That fact had created a need for a more efficient and inexpensive way to give better and faster response to those emergency situations. The researchers claimed that drones can solve the problem. They can be deployed in large numbers and thus giving the emergency callers a faster response. 

DigitalTrends explained that the rescue drones are run by a software with a rather complicated combination of Artificial Intelligence algorithms. The software will continuously scan the drone's surroundings with two cameras attached to the device. As the drone navigates the area, it will also detect existing trails and direct itself to open paths.

In order to do the tasks, the software was created using an algorithm that could learn to solve complex tasks with training, similar to the way a human brain learns. The researchers had trained the software with the physical data they gather themselves, in the form of tens of thousands of images of the forest area.

Professor Davide Scaramuzza from the University of Zurich which also took part in the research, elaborated how this is an important and significant development. "While drones flying at high altitudes are already being used commercially, drones cannot yet fly autonomously in complex environments, such as dense forests. In these environments, any little error may result in a crash, and robots need a powerful brain in order to make sense of the complex world around them," he stated.

According to Phys, although the breakthrough is remarkable, some challenges remain and they need to be addressed before the technology could be used properly. Professor Scaramuzza noted that many technological issues must be dealt with before the most ambitious applications can become a reality. Also, the researchers still have to find a way to teach the drones to recognize humans in order to help rescue them.

The research will be presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in May. The development is still in its early stages and more improvement needs to be done before the technology can be used properly to search and rescue lost hikers. The technology is particularly important to Switzerland because the numbers of hikers facing emergency situations are relatively high in which they received about 1000 emergency calls from hikers every year. 

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