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Smart Visual Algorithm Lets Unmanned Drones Perform Autonomous Search and Rescue Operations

• Rebecca Boyle via PopSci

Unmanned drones could make searching for lost hikers much cheaper, faster and safer than using helicopters, according to researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah. They are turning drones, best known for their search-and-destroy capabilities, into search-and-rescue vehicles.

When hikers go missing in the mountains, search-and-rescue (SAR) teams mobilize in a complicated and very expensive operation to find them. The National Park Service alone spends about $4 million a year rescuing the lost, and that’s saying nothing of individual city and county expenses. What’s more, search teams can be imperiled by bad weather.

The drone project simplifies all this by equipping a miniature aircraft, just a 4-foot wingspan, with a video camera. A SAR operator directs the plane by clicking on a computerized map. The plane can also work autonomously, by analyzing the terrain and using probabilistic models to determine a lost person’s likely route.

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