‘Drones can change the future of search & rescue’ says York academic
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12th February 2019

'Drones can change the future of search & rescue' says York academic

AN ACADEMIC from York has called for understanding on the use of drone technology, following negative reports around the UK.

Dr Victoria Hodge is an associate at the Digital Creativity Labs at the University of York, and said recent stories – including the revelation by The Press that a drone pilot had been spoken to by police after he flew illegally over the city, and the fiasco after reports of drones shut down Gatwick Airport and stranded 140,000 passengers – showed the negative side of drone use.

However, Dr Hodge said the increased use of drones for scientific reasons marked “the beginning of a drone revolution” which could benefit people in times of tragedy.

Dr Hodge said: “If drones are so disruptive, why use them at all?

“Drones can automatically avoid obstacles, stay steady in strong winds, fly at low altitude and fly when it is cloudy. Drones helped repair power lines in Puerto Rico brought down by Hurricane Maria when it struck the island in 2017. They act as first responders in remote areas of California where they coordinate the search for missing hikers.

“What if drones could also bring internet access to people who don’t have it, or deliver food and medicine to people who need it? Go into inaccessible or unsafe areas to search and assess a dangerous situation? What if they could identify structural flaws in buildings or measure environmental pollution? What if drones could also help us monitor agricultural crops?”

The Digital Creativity Labs is designing, developing and implementing a new sensor module for drones – the Adaptive and Autonomous Robotics Module (AARM) – which can be used to analyse buildings, infrastructure and environments or for search and rescue missions.

Dr Hodge said this sensor module could change the way search and rescue missions take place.

She said: “As the drone flies, the sensors in the plates take readings and stream their data to software in the on-board computer. We aim to process the data on-board for fastest response and to minimise communication overheads. Our software uses the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to analyse the streamed data and to detect problems such as chemical leaks, missing or trapped people or hotspots following a fire. Our analyses detect problems rapidly which leads to improved safety and cost savings.

“Once we know there is an issue, our module uses AI to analyse the sensor data, calculate the location of the anomaly and to guide the drone straight to the problem. The AI forms a recommender system to recommend the direction of travel of the drone to hone in on the problem site. AARM detects noxious gases and finds the source; detects human body heat and geotags the location; or, detects emergency beacon signals and geotags the site. Drones are far more than toys or tools for disruption. We are at the beginning of a drone revolution.”

For the full story please see the York PressĀ website.