Every year thousands of people get lost in the forests or mountains and if you have ever been lost in the wilderness before, you know that it is one of the scariest things that could happen to you. Now, researchers are training drones to recognize and follow forest trails and they could soon be used to help find missing hikers.
Researchers from the Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence and the University of Zürich have developed artificial intelligence software to teach a small quadcopter how to get around forest trails all on its own. In the future, drones could be used together with rescue teams in the search for lost hikers.
Drones use powerful artificial-intelligence algorithms to interpret images to recognize trails
The drone used by the Swiss researchers observes the environment through a pair of small cameras, similar to those used in smartphones. Instead of relying on sophisticated sensors, their drone uses very 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.
“While drones flying at high altitudes are already being used commercially, drones cannot yet fly autonomously in complex environments, such as dense forests. In these environments, any little error may result in a crash, and robots need a powerful brain in order to make sense of the complex world around them,” says Davide Scaramuzza from the University of Zurich.
While drones will not be flying around mountain trails any time soon, they might one day be the main search tool due to their inexpensiveness and ability to be deployed in large numbers.