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MIT Is Creating a Fleet of Drones to Rescue Lost Hikers

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Every year hikers go missing in the many forests found within the United States of America and other parts of the world. Now, it takes days or even weeks to locate lost hikers, and that is not good by any means. As it stands, then, rescuers need a more efficient tool to locate hikers lost in a forest.

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With drones becoming quite popular in solving many problems around the world, it makes perfect sense to use such a device to track down hikers in dense forests. You see, the folks at MIT are working on an autonomous drone that should be able to locate lost hikers.

This is great news because, in some forest areas, it’s quite difficult to get a GPS signal. This is where autonomous drones could aid rescuers much better than what is currently available. It should be noted that drones are already being used to aid rescuers on the ground, but at this time, none of those devices are capable of navigating complex environments automatically.

The new fleet of drones in development by MIT right now, are being designed with LIDAR, algorithms, and wireless communication to get the job done.

Here’s the thing, as the drones fly around the area it wants to search, it shoots laser beams to the ground and measure reflected pulses in a bid to create a 3D map of the terrain. Additionally, these fleet of drones will then move to identify spots already searched, and those unexplored.

“Essentially, we’re replacing humans with a fleet of drones to make the search part of the search-and-rescue process more efficient,” says first author Yulun Tian, a graduate student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro).

The first fleet of drones was tested in randomly generated forests, and after that, researchers used two drones to test their efficiency within a forest located near NASA’s Langley Research Center. What’s interesting is the fact that each drone can map a 20-square-meter area in up to five minutes, which isn’t too bad.

But we’re suspecting the MIT team is working to bring this time down a bit lower to increase the chances of finding lost hikers. To make things much easier, researchers have programmed the drones to identify trees among other things.

“Drones can use that as a unique signature to tell if they’ve visited this area before or if it’s a new area,” Tian says. As for when these drones will see the light of day under real circumstances, well, the MIT researchers did not say. We believe it could take a number of years because before the technology is perfected, so keep an eye out.

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