Reports from search-and-rescue statistics suggest that about 4,000 hikers go missing every year. A few survival strategies will suffice since getting lost while you’re hiking can be bad news to family and friends. Meanwhile, Stefan Weissberg is making efforts to change all that now, beginning with an ultra-light drone with infrared vision. It is called the Sentry.
Scroll down for the video
Sentry was a simple and elegant idea where lightweight drones are used for aerial recon, locating lost hikers by their standout warm IR signature against the cold wilderness. Since this can be done from some height and distance, it presents a time advantage for search-and-rescue team. Searching on foot is time-consuming and you can’t send rescuers to every square inch of a dangerous location, and helicopters are often prohibitively expensive.
It is remarkably easy to use the drone. It can be brought in in a backpack and set up in seconds. The pilot only needs to throw it into the air and take control. It comes in a streaming flavor that broadcasts up to 640×480 video in the IR to a remote pocket-portable display, which can record the video for later review, and a less expensive version that records HD video in the visible spectrum to an onboard card. It can handle 55 mph wind gusts, respond to direction from 2 km away as long as there’s line of sight, and be retrieved from swift water.
There is a clear distinction between the Sentry’s IR camera recordings and that of humans. It fits into the water bottle pocket on your backpack so you can take the rest of your gear without sacrificing carry space for a hard case.
Possibly, the one area that requires improvement is the battery. This could be a perfect niche for thin-and-light battery tech. Currently, the drone gets about 15 minutes of battery life, which is not bad for homebrew but not up to the multiple hours of air time that the search area of an actual SAR mission could require. Despite the battery life, both versions of the drone are now available for pre-order and expected to ship this year.
It has a price tag of $2,500 for the optical version and up to $7,500 for the high-resolution IR aerial eyes.
So far, making quadcopters and drones to bear for peaceful purposes has been something of a dispute. The logical military demand for unmanned aircraft has skewed our collective application of the technology. However, peacetime uses for quadcopters that don’t involve idiots and shotguns still crop up. Swiss researchers recently used machine learning via neural networks to program a UAV to follow a man-made trail using optical image recognition. It works in the visible spectrum instead of infrared, and it flies below the canopy instead of above, and their quadcopter proof-of-concept achieved comparable accuracy to human trackers. With a combined application of these technologies, there could be responsive solution to wilderness search and rescue.
Riderless, the startup company established by Weissberg, posted an adorably Canadian sample video, including diligently following safety best practices at the end. Certainly, the best option is not to get lost in the first place, but when the unexpected stuff happens, now you can be rest assured that the drones could actually come to your rescue.