There are hoards of people around the world who enjoy getting outdoors and hiking through paths in the forest and mountains. Sometimes when people unfamiliar with the terrain venture out accidents happen leading to injury or lost hikers. Typically finding these lost or injured hikers involves an expensive search with lots of people and often helicopters to search from the sky.
Finding people lost in the woods has become easier and cheaper thanks to new software invented by researchers at the University of Zurich, the Università della Svizzera italiana, and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland. The new software enables drones to autonomously detect and follow forest paths.
With the ability to detect and follow paths in the woods, the drones can take much of the legwork out of searching for lost and injured people. Since the drones fly, it doesn’t matter how treacherous the paths or terrain are. A single searcher with multiple drones can search a much greater swath of land than a single person on foot.
The big catch here is that most drones have a very short battery life before they have to return to charge or have batteries swapped. The researchers developed the AI software enabling each of the quadcopter drones to find the paths and operate safely.
“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,” says Prof. Davide Scaramuzza from the University of Zurich.
The drones used in testing have a pair of cameras along the lines of cams you find in a smartphone to view the terrain and the AI algorithms in the software detect paths that are man-made in the forest and follow them. Researchers note that a lot of work is still needed before the drones are ready to search forests for lost hikers.