When disaster strikes, rescue and survey teams sprint to the site, trying to find survivors and survey the damage. German scientists have invented a a better, quicker way to do the job: By using a swarm of mini helicopters to zoom around urban wreckage and gather data using infrared cameras, laser measuring tools and sniffer devices that detect hazardous substances. That information would then be beamed to disaster staff who would determine how to direct their resources.
Tiny helicopters aren’t new, and neither are high-tech sensor devices. The innovation is in controlling them all from a single point. Instead of having each helicopter manned by a separate person, the inventors at the Fraunhofer Institute for Information and Data Processing IITB in Karlsruhe, Germany, are developing a program that will allow all the airborne devices to network with each other and coordinate their actions. Thus, the whole array could be controlled by a single person, who would perform the same work that ordinarily requires dozens or even hundreds of ground staff. Trials are already under way, and finished devices will be available in as little as a year.
These swarm-copters have other uses as well: The research team is also mulling surveillance applications.