Drones to help in search-and-rescue missions? NEIT students up to task

West Bay

EAST GREENWICH, R.I. (WPRI) — Students at New England Tech could be due some congratulations if their latest invention helps save lives.

In the institute’s program for getting an associate’s degree in Electronics, Robotics, and Drone Technology, students have developed a system that uses both an unmanned aerial vehicle and an unmanned “rover” vehicle — sky and ground drones — to make quick work of seeking out a missing person and getting help to them.

Bob Comerford, a professor in the school’s Drone Engineering program, said the project raised the stakes for students.

“They got so excited about the whole thing because they can see how it gives them an end result, as opposed to just a lab [activity] where a light blinked, or something like that, they were actually able to solve a problem,” he explained.

The group has been working on the project for ten weeks.

It’s unique in the marrying of the two technologies, Comerford said.

“The coordination of everything is new with all the education these guys are getting in electronics,” he said. “What’s great is it ties in a lot of the pieces of everything they’ve been doing in their associate’s program.”

The system works like this: A drone with camera scans over the wooded area, taking hundreds of pictures. That info is brought back to base camp, where a virtual map is created.

From there, the missing object can be located.

Its exact location is entered into a four-wheel-drive “rover,” the size of a dog, which then drives itself to the target. The ground rover tracks real-time temperature data of its location, sends live video of the trip back to the search base camp, and once it arrives at the missing person’s location, delivers a handheld radio to them.

Comerford said the technology is still being fine-tuned but could easily be used in more large-scale search and rescue missions.

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