As a result of humanitarian crises, thousands of refugees and migrants have fled across the seas worldwide in recent years. The sea has often proved to be an extremely dangerous terrain. A team from Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, is currently developing an autonomous drone system as part of the project “Quadcopters, fixed-wing aircraft and marine drones for search and rescue operations”, which should make rescue operations at sea faster and more efficient.
The system is based on the interaction of drones on water and in the air. Communicatively networked with each other, they can autonomously search an area, alert authorities to people in distress and provide first aid before rescue teams arrive. The system consists of three components: a maritime catamaran drone called Seacat, which serves as a base for the other drones; a fleet of winged drones that monitor the surrounding area; and a quadcopter that can deliver supplies, medical aids or flotation devices. The quadcopter – a drone equipped with four motors and therefore able to hover – can carry loads weighing up to about two kilograms.
All drones in the air are equipped with cameras and a tracking system and can move fully autonomously; the ship drone follows a predefined route in a closed loop. If a fixed-wing drone detects objects in the water, the quadcopter is sent there to take photos, which are sent to a rescue centre on land via the water drone. The rescue centre can in turn send the quadcopter out with relief supplies. If the battery of one of the wing drones runs out of power, it is taken out of service and lands in the water near the Seacat drone, from which it can be automatically collected, recharged and sent out again. The drone system was jointly developed by the Department of Vehicle Mechanics and Autonomous Systems and the Department of Fluid Dynamics of the Department of Mechanical and Marine Sciences and will soon be tested at sea.
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