Smart Drones Saving Lives, Says Croatian Mountain Rescue Service

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How technology is assisting the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service.

Saving lives is the main purpose of the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service, whose expertise and humanity have already been proven innumerable times. One of its tasks is to search for missing persons which is often more demanding than the rescue itself, taking into account the large search areas on the often inaccessible terrain, with volunteers and dogs, as well as costly helicopters and aircraft, reports Slobodna Dalmacija on November 30, 2015.

A few years ago, the late Hrvoje Dujmić, a professor at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture in Spit and a long-time member of Croatian Mountain Rescue Service, came up with the idea of ​​developing a computer program that would automatically analyze aerial photographs taken during the search and try to find missing people. After several years of scientific research and programming, his associates created a computer program WiSAR (Wilderness Search and Rescue). The project is worth about 400,000 kuna and has recently been presented to the public.

“Hrvoje Dujmić knew exactly what the Service needs, and that is a resource which could cut the time spent on searching for people. After six, seven years of work, we have created a prototype software system for search and rescue on the basis of the image processing which we believe is unique in the world. We have dedicated it to our late colleague, and we intend to continue to develop it, seeking new potential customers”, Vladan Papić said.

After the alert is received, Croatian Mountain Rescue Service launches an unmanned drone, which is robust and resistant to bad weather conditions. “Through the application, we send an order to the drone to search an area. Software itself creates the flight route which completely covers the area. An area of one square kilometre can be analyzed within 15 to 20 minutes with as many as 300 photos recorded. After the drone lands, we insert the SD card into our computer, where the images are imported into the application and processed by algorithms which look for a person. High-speed algorithms search for segments in images which are different from the rest of the picture and show them in red. It is not certain that the marked area represents a person, but our testing has shown that very often that is the case”, Papić explained.

Rescuers say that this method would not be useful in urban areas, but in remote areas where there are almost no people it can be very helpful. Although drones have already been used during searches of hard to reach areas, in the future missing persons should be located much more quickly, which would increase the odds of saving human lives.

“To our knowledge, no one in the world has such a program, perhaps only the army, but we do not know for sure. We believe that the software can be developed further. To begin with, we are going to present it to other rescue services. We will also try to use the European funds, and contact the interested companies, manufacturers and distributors of drones, to make the project financially viable. The prototype is out there”, Papić concluded.


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