Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden are working on a new autonomous search and rescue system consisting of a marine vessel capable of launching a fleet of fixed-wing drones to explore a predefined area, as well as powered quadcopters live.
Fleeing a war or disaster zone to take refuge in another country can sometimes involve the perilous crossing of a large body of water, often in overcrowded or unsuitable boats. In the event of a disaster, the speed of search and rescue response could mean the difference between life and death. And that’s where the Chalmers team hopes its autonomous tri-drone system will come into play.
The marine component of the project is a prototype autonomous catamaran originally built for other university projects and already tested in the automated deployment of equipment at sea, fine-tuned for port inspection and surveillance, and sent for autonomous underwater measurements. This mothership will be assigned to a predefined search area at sea and will provide a link for local communications and an Internet uplink, in addition to housing a computing unit and GNSS and IMU systems.
It will also serve as a launchpad for a fleet of fixed-wing drones equipped with RGB and IR cameras to search for objects in the water, with the number of aerial scouts searching a grid determined by an intelligent algorithm developed by the team.
If a Battery Electric Drone starts to run out of juice, it will shut down and land in the water near the Seacat, where it will play a message that it is ready to be picked up and recharged before rejoining the ship again. research effort.
If an aerial drone detects an object in the water, the coordinates and a short video clip are sent back to the Seacat for onward transmission to base operations on land. If the object is confirmed to be a person in need, a quadcopter may be dispatched to provide a live video feed and possibly deliver flotation devices or supplies. During this time, local authorities will be notified and a crewed rescue mission will be mounted.
“The project is based on the simple principle that different drones have different advantages, and by enabling multiple types of autonomous drones to work together, search efficiency and rescue response speed can be significantly improved, with the potential to save more lives,” said the team’s Xin Zhao, from Chalmers’ Fluid Mechanics division.
The Seacat has already proven itself in the water, although project manager Ola Benderius told us that “if a larger player were to field our tri-drone concept, they would probably want a slightly larger marine platform fast”. A prototype aerial drone was built from scratch and a quadcopter was tested. Now the assembly of all the parts into a self-contained whole is about to begin.
“So far, we have successfully completed a quadcopter landing on Seacat, and the winged drones have been built and are being evaluated,” said Benderius, associate professor in the Autonomous Vehicles and Systems Engineering Division of the university. “In the continuity of the project, we will assemble the system and test it in its entirety at sea.”