Drones

Scientists Are Training Drones to Find Lost Hikers

Scientists Are Training Drones to Find Lost Hikers
Image credit: Mauricio Lima | Flickr

If you should lose your way in the Swiss forest, don’t fret. Smart drones can probably find you.

Researchers in Switzerland have developed artificial intelligence that they say is sharp enough to enable quadcopters to automatically find and follow footpaths in the woods.

The new technology is specifically designed to give humans a hand in locating missing persons, an estimated 1,000 of whom send rescuers on the hunt in the woodlands and mountains of Switzerland every year.     

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Instead of using high-tech sensors, the drone Swiss scientists deployed in their tests quickly scans hiking and mountain-biking trails, notably beneath -- not above -- the forest canopy, with an embedded color camera.

To see the trail-stalking drone in action, check out the video below:

Relying on the image-classifying deep neural network software researchers designed, the unmanned craft autonomously stays on obvious trails, automatically steering itself as it goes. Avoiding trees, twigs and brush is key, as colliding with them could easily down a drone. This ability allows it to assist in search and rescue missions, perhaps even better than humans can, researchers claim.

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"Interpreting an image taken in a complex environment such as a forest is incredibly difficult for a computer," said Dr. Alessandro Giusti, a scientist who took part in the research. "Sometimes even humans struggle to find the trail!"

Giusti and his colleagues, hailing from Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence, the University of Zurich and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research, published their findings in the journal IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters last December.

Researchers were wise to position their trail-hugging drone as a search-and-rescue helper. We can only imagine how it might eventually be used in covert forest military operations.

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