Saturday, June 15, 2024

AI-directed drones could help find lost hikers faster

Computer scienceAI-directed drones could help find lost hikers faster

In virtual testing, Ewers’ algorithm beat both of those approaches in two key measures; the distance a drone would have to fly to locate the missing person, and the percentage of time the person was found. While the lawnmower and existing algorithmic approach found the person 8% of the time and 12% of the time, respectively, Ewers’ approach found them 19% of the time. If it proves successful in real rescue situations, the new system could speed up response times, and save more lives, in scenarios where every minute counts. 

“The search and rescue domain in Scotland is extremely varied, and also quite dangerous,” Ewers says. Emergencies can arise in thick forests on the Isle of Arran, the steep mountains and slopes around the Cairngorm Plateau, or the faces of Ben Nevis, one of the most revered but dangerous rock climbing destinations in Scotland. “Being able to send up a drone and efficiently search with it could potentially save lives.”

Search and rescue experts say that using deep learning to design more efficient drone routes could help locate missing persons faster in a variety of wilderness areas, depending on how well suited the environment is for drone exploration (it’s harder for drones to explore dense canopy than open brush, for example).

“That approach in the Scottish Highlands certainly sounds like a viable one, particularly in the early stages of search when you’re waiting for other people to show up,” says David Kovar, a director at the US National Association for Search and Rescue in Williamsburg, Virginia, who has used drones for everything from disaster response in California to wilderness search missions in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. 

But there are caveats. The success of such a planning algorithm will hinge on how accurate the probability maps are. Overreliance on these maps could mean that drone operators spend too much time searching the wrong areas. 

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