Autonomous drones perform search and rescue without the need for GPS

A new drone developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) could be the key to finding hikers lost in the woods. A challenge with search and rescue operations for people lost in forests is that helicopters and drones which fly above the tree canopy cannot see down to the forest floor to locate them, so autonomous drones which can weave between trees are a proposed alternative. However, most autonomous drones rely on GPS signals which can be weak or non-existent in heavily forested areas. Now researchers at MIT have developed a flying drone which does not rely on GPS but uses onboard computation and wireless communication instead.

The quadrotor drones have tools onboard to help them move around and plan paths, like laser-range finders which can estimate the drone’s position. Rather than downloading GPS data and using this to navigate, the drones form their own 3D maps by surveying the terrain and using algorithms to recognize areas that are already mapped. The data is displayed as a visual map in which unexplored areas are dark and already explored areas are grey, with trees shown as blocks of blue or green depending on their height. When several of these drones are used in concert, their data can be combined in a ground station which weaves all of the terrain information together to produce one large 3D map that can then be used by rescuers to locate lost hikers.

The next step in getting the drones ready for use is to equip them with object detection which they could use to tag the location of a hiker once they are found. Then the emergency services could use this location information to plan a rescue. The drones could essentially take over time-consuming searches, as Yulun Tian, a graduate student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, explained in a statement: “Essentially, we’re replacing humans with a fleet of drones to make the search part of the search-and-rescue process more efficient.”

In a real-world demonstration, the drones were able to map a 215 square foot area each and to successfully fuse their data into one collaborative map. See the drones in action in the video below:

Emerging Tech

Meet the 4K selfie drone that folds like a book, follows you like a paparrazzo

Having a drone that could follow you everywhere while taking high-quality images without crashing has been a flight of fantasy. With ZeroZero's Hover 2, not only can you have a fully autonomous 4K selfie drone, you can have it for $400.
Cars

Car parts maker ZF is using drones to deliver components to its factories

ZF recently became the first entity in Germany to receive approval to use drones to deliver spare parts, and the company now uses them to deliver parts from its central warehouses to its workshops.
Photography

Photography News: Flickr keeping Creative Commons photos, ONA gets colorful

Flickr has confirmed it's saving all Creative Commons images, ONA has released a new capsule collection in partnership with Passion Passport and 7Artisans has launched a new drone-specific 35mm f/5.6 lens.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Watch this lab-grown heart tissue beat just like the real thing

A team of researchers in Germany have used stem cells to create a lab-grown human heart tissue which actually beats, as well as responding to drugs in the same way as the real thing.
Emerging Tech

Shipping crate filled with 3D-printing robots may be the future of construction

Autodesk has created a robot-filled shipping container which may represent the future of construction work. The crate contains two robots able to 3D print custom components for building sites.
Emerging Tech

Michigan’s former transportation chief has some advice for wannabe smart cities

After 31 years as Michigan’s transportation director, Kirk Steudle has seen it all, particularly with smart city projects. He spoke with Digital Trends recently about what makes smart cities work, and offers advice along the way.
Emerging Tech

Sticking these tiny needles in your eye may help fight blindness

An eye patch covered in tiny needles sounds like a torture device. In fact, it's a potential new medical treatment for eye diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Bottle-flipping robots may be the most millennial thing we’ve ever seen

Until drones start vaping, you're unlikely to see anything more millennial than a recent contest in Japan in which robots competed to pull off some seriously impressive bottle-flipping feats.
Emerging Tech

New simulation shows how Elon Musk’s internet satellite network might work

Elon Musk has the dream of building a network for conveying internet traffic via thousands of satellites. A new simulation created by a computer scientist looks at how feasible the idea is.
Emerging Tech

These Alexa-stuffed retro phones don’t listen until you take them off the hook

Looking for an Amazon Echo with a cool vintage touch? Los Angeles-based Grain Design is taking old, non-working antique phones and transforming them into amazing Alexa smart speakers.
Smart Home

This alarm clock uses targeted light and sound to wake you, but not your partner

The Wake v2 isn't like your typical bedside alarm. Instead, it wakes you by shining a soft light directly into your face, thereby not disturbing the person sharing a bed with you. Pretty smart, huh?
Emerging Tech

This exosuit can turn humans into strong lifting machines

A company called Levitate Technologies has developed a fire-resistant upper body exoskeleton that’s capable of lowering exertion levels by up to 80 percent when you carry out manual work.
Emerging Tech

Intel’s new ‘neural network on a stick’ aims to unchain A.I. from the internet

To kick off its first developer conference in Beijing, Intel unveiled the second generation of its Neural Compute Stick -- a device that promises to democratize the development of computer vision A.I. applications.