Lost in the Forest? The Drones Will Find You

Daniel Fraga
February 24th 2016

Researchers at the Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence and the University of Zurich have "taught" small drones how to recognize and navigate the forest paths by themselves. This means that soon, if you get lost in the woods, you may have a drone come get you and tell you how to get back on track. They can also be used in order to improve the effectiveness of rescue teams.

Ah, Nature. Who doesn't enjoy a hike in the mountains and in the forest? Wandering around in a sunny day, breathing in the fresh air, looking at all the different butterflies, birds and bees go about their business. Some even think that, as a civilization, we should go back to living in this version of nature - being in harmony with our surroundings, with the animals, the plants, the moon and the stars.

But make no mistake, nature is a harsh and dangerous place. Switzerland's emergency centres receive over one thousand calls per year from hikers who require assistance because they got injured or lost. The forests and the mountains were not made for leisurely sunday afternoon strolls - they can become very dangerous.

Luckily - once again - technology comes to our rescue. Adding to the hiking gear, to the maps who guide us in our hike, to the paths that we walk in and to the cell phones in our pockets - and if the situation comes to the point in which we desperately require assistance - we now have drones.

Davide Scaramuzza, from the University of Zurich, says that "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".

Getting a drone to interpret images gathered from an environment as complex as a forest is not the easiest thing in the world. Very complex algorithms and artificial intelligence have to come into play and be primed before we are able to see forest patrol drones flying around, besides the butterflies, the birds and the bees. Maybe by then we will learn to enjoy the buzz of its motors as just another beautiful, natural sound - as if it was a new kind of bug. On the other hand, if we absolutely despise the aesthetics of the drone-ridden-forest, at least we can rest our hearts on the possibility that, if we get lost or injured, one of these man-made bugs will come to our rescue.

Source: Tree Hugger

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