Yes, drones have gotten a nasty rap. Their usefulness in spying and high-explosive assassinations have most people fearful of their negative potential if misused. And of course when the machines rise up they’ll hunt us mercilessly from the sky, I think that’s a given.
But the SHERPA (Smart collaboration between Humans and ground-aErial Robots for imProving rescuing activities in Alpine environments) drone system isn’t a killer. It’s more like a loyal St. Bernard bringing much needed aid to lost souls, although sorry, no cask of brandy around its neck.
The SHERPA drone system is designed people lost in the Italian Alps. It will actually consist of both flying robots and an on-the-ground rescue robot rovoer. Covering search areas semi-autonomously, they will work in tandem and in cooperation with human workers to find and rescue people during disasters like avalanches, going into places that are too dangerous for humans to cover.
The SHERPA ground rover serves as a base and a charging station for the flying robots and for other rescue equipment. The SHERPA team is building it an advanced robotic arm that can reach out and grab the flying robots and place them on the charging station.
Although the ground robot is limited in its ability to get past obstacles in the rugged Alps, this “intelligent donkey” helps the flying robots compensate for their limited battery life. The charging station and other important equipment on the rover is contained in a detachable unit called the “SHERPA Box” that can be detached and moved by a large drone, helicopter, even on a man’s back if it needs to be taken somewhere the rover can’t reach.
The flying robots are also more than standard drones. In addition to a number of visual sensors look for victims, they will be equipped with the capability to monitor rescue workers through sensors on their clothing. The rescue workers can also monitor the actions of the robot through portable devices, allowing for a two-way exchange of info that allows the humans and the robot to work as a team.
The SHERPA system is complemented by larger more traditional fixed-wing and rotary drones.
The scientists involved in the SHERPA project and Italian Association of Alpine Rescuers, who will be using it, recently met for an “Integration Week” to “harmonize” and test the various pieces of the project. The project is expected to be completed by 2017. Find more about the project on its web site.
[Source: University of Twente]