Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Drones May Search for People Lost in the Woods

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Drones May Search for People Lost in the Woods

Article excerpt

Every year, thousands of people lose their way in forests and mountain areas. In Switzerland alone, emergency centers respond to some 1,000 calls annually from injured and lost hikers. Researchers say drones may soon complement the work of rescue services. Inexpensive and quickly deployed in mass, drones can cut response times and reduce risk of injury to missing persons and rescue teams alike.

Swiss researchers have developed artificial intelligence software to teach a small quadrocopter to autonomously recognize and follow forest trails. The drone observes the environment through smartphone-type cameras and uses powerful artificial-intelligence algorithms to interpret the images to recognize human-made trails. If a trail is visible, the software steers the drone in the corresponding direction. "Interpreting an image taken in a complex environment such as a forest is incredibly difficult for a computer," says a researcher from the Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence. "Sometimes even humans struggle to find the trail."

The Swiss team solved the problem using a so-called deep neural network, a computer algorithm that learns to solve complex tasks from a set of "training examples," much like a brain learns from experience. …

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