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Hiker with head-mounted cameras taught drones to fly through forests

Swiss researchers want to replace search parties with artificially intelligent ranger drones.

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Image Credit: Getty Creative

Researchers in Switzerland have developed a drone that can navigate forest trails in search of missing hikers. According to EPFL, around 1,000 people get lost in Swiss forests every year and often need to be rescued. Rather than enlisting a search party, which are limited by the number of warm bodies on hand, a fleet of drones could cover the main trails with ease. Unfortunately, while getting a drone to fly through dense wooded forests was reasonable enough, letting it navigate the territory on its own was another thing altogether.

The team decided to build a deep learning neural network that would be able to look at any image of a trail and establish where it led. In order to gather this images, it strapped a series of cameras to a hiker that wandered along the pathways. This footage was then run through a custom image classifier that could take a single frame and determine if the correct path was right, left or straight on. The idea being that, rather than tying up human operators, they could simply form their own search party and make their own way out. Naturally, we're still a way away from this system being used out in the wild, but it's a pretty exciting use for the technology.

Of course, should Skynet suddenly decide that it wants to hunt the most dangerous game of all, we won't even be able to use the forests as natural cover.

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