Drones and Smartphones are the Newest Tools for Search and Rescue Efforts


Imagine being buried under rubble with nothing but your smartphone — you would most likely want it used for tracking your location, even if that meant the tracker was a drone. Don’t worry, the drone is supposed to locate you and rescue you from impending demise.

The rescue drone, or Swarming Micro Air Vehicle Network (SMAVNET II), was developed by student researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).  The technology is based on location triangulation. In the event of a natural disaster like an earthquake, SMAVNET II can be deployed to locate phone signals from below the rubble.

There are limitations to the signal strengths, however. It’s not capable of being used if the phone’s WiFi is not turned on. Also, signals can get scrambled — by buildings, weather conditions and orientation. In some cases, signal strength can be used to determine just how deep an individual is buried. However, signals coming from below meters of concrete will be undetectable.

Signal detecting is not new technology, but the SMAVNET II is different in that it uses its small, autonomous drone army for good.

The airplanes are fixed-wing aircrafts with an electric motor and integrated autopilot capable of flying with winds of up to 12 [meters per second], at a cruising speed of up to 15.8 [meters per second], with an autonomy of up to 45 minutes. In case of emergency, they can be remotely controlled up to a distance of three kilometers via a Microhard Systems Nano n2420 link connection. Within this distance, if necessary, the flight mission can be modified on the fly…
In some countries (e.g., Switzerland) they can be used without specific authorization.

There are only a few exceptions for drone use in the U.S., where a Texas judge granted the non-profit Texas EquuSearch rights to continue using drones as part of its search and rescue efforts. Texas EquuuSearch used five-pound drones to survey challenging territory and search for missing persons and bodies.

“The court’s decision explains that Texas EquuSearch is not under any FAA mandate to stop using civilian drones to help families find their missing loved ones. Therefore, the organization and its volunteers plan to resume their use of this life-saving technology immediately,” the group’s attorney Brendan Schulman told Gigaom.

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