Swarming drones could save lives at sea

Jul 09, 2012
Research student Monica Chi and her supervisor John Page

(Phys.org) -- Inspired by the swarming patterns of animals in nature, a UNSW aerospace engineering PhD student is using biomimicry to improve the marine search and rescue capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Monica Chi, from the School of Mechanical and at UNSW, is developing to test the efficacy of groups of UAVs for finding and tracking people lost at sea.

She has been invited to attend and present her research at the prestigious 2012 International Graduate Summer School in Aeronautics and Astronautics at Beihang University in China this July.

Chi is part of a team of researchers at UNSW using “evolutionary” algorithms to simulate novel and chaotic flight formations for UAVs that mimic the swarm behavior demonstrated by such as ants, honeybees, and wolves.

“The strengths of having UAVs rather than piloted vehicles for marine search and rescue is that they are not limited by human capability in terms of flying in dangerous or poor visibility conditions,” says Chi.

“The simulations help us test and analyse new optimising algorithms to reduce the cost and amount of resources consumed in , and also to reduce the response time and increase the probability of saving lives,” she says.

In the event of a shipwreck or distress call, one of the first things rescuers do is establish a search boundary. In Chi’s simulations, individual drones in the swarm of UAVs communicate with each other and take cues from their environment through rule sets as they search the specified area. 

These rules ensure they deliver maximum search coverage in changing environmental conditions without colliding. When they identify survivors they are programmed to alter their flight patterns so they can track the target in open water until a rescue helicopter or vessel arrives. 

Chi says the work is inspired by nature, where swarm behaviour is occurring in many different systems, even in fluids: “Water can be broken down into spherical particles – or individual agents – that follow a set of rules. We decentralise everything and look for the patterns that emerge.”

“There really aren’t many people in the world taking this approach with simulation of UAVs,” says John Page, a senior lecturer in at UNSW and Chi's supervisor. “In addition to vehicles, we’re also looking at how these swarms can be applied to power generation and other complex systems.”  

Explore further: New filter technology uses inert gas to bore holes in high-quality steel

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Unmanned planes look for Katrina survivors

Sep 15, 2005

Unmanned, small aircraft were being used this week to search for survivors of Hurricane Katrina in the first domestic use of such surveillance vehicles.

Fighting house fires with computer models

May 24, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Through advanced computer modelling of house fires, mechanical engineers at UNSW are giving fire fighters a new suite of tools to investigate and battle dangerous blazes in time for the traditionally ...

Airborne robot swarms are making complex moves (w/ video)

Feb 02, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- The GRASP Lab at the University of Pennsylvania this week released a video that shows their new look in GRASP Lab robotic flying devices. They are now showing flying devices with more complex ...

The washable wearable antenna

Sep 30, 2011

Wearing an antenna – without anyone knowing – is making a splash in the world of search and rescue.

Recommended for you

Augmented reality helps in industrial troubleshooting

16 hours ago

At a "smart" factory, machines reveal a number of data about themselves. Sensors measuring temperature, rotating speed or vibrations provide valuable information on the state of a machine. On this basis, ...

3D printed nose wins design award

Aug 27, 2014

A Victoria University of Wellington design student is the New Zealand finalist for the James Dyson Award 2014 for his Master's project—a 3D printed prosthetic nose.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Shifty0x88
not rated yet Jul 10, 2012
So I am guessing these UAVs get the last known location of the vessel and the current wind/surf conditions and then all go off from there in the most likely places the ship/survivors could be, while also not covering the same ground and not colliding with each other.

Guess you have to keep the implementation details a little sparse to get the edge in UAV Search and Rescue operations??