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Finding its way


Drones are all over the place, or at least certainly all over the techie end of the news. I spotted a story on Gizmag this morning claiming that drones could follow trails to find lost hikers. Apparently the development team, from three Swiss universities, has developed software that can follow forest trails better than humans (85% accuracy compared to 82% for us meatsacks). The plan is that drones could be sent out to look for lost people, faster and down trails with known hazards that would slow human searchers (I imagine paths alongside yawning chasms and so forth).

The team admit they’ve still got to refine their software to spot the missing person when the drone comes across them but I can see a couple of other flaws as well. Firstly, as far as I’m aware, drone batteries currently have a fairly short range. They’ve got to be light but have to power multiple rotors, a camera and other processing and communication equipment. Round the range down a bit for safety and halve it to allow the device to return to base rather than becoming another lost thing to retrieve and I suspect you are looking at about five minutes of search time which quickly loses out to the ability of humans to keep going.

Secondly, surely people who can stick to the paths are less likely to be the ones in danger? Even if they sort out spotting humans and running long enough to get out of sight of the starting point, surely the drones would be better covering all the options that a sensible hiker wouldn’t follow? That’s not to say that the research is pointless but I can’t see the main aim, as conveyed in the article, ending up as the most important breakthrough.

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