We’ve discussed many uses for drones, from deliveries of food and medicine to building skyscrapers. The unmanned aerial vehicle has shed its reputation as an exclusively violent machine: These days, there are plenty of peaceful applications.
The latest example is a project from the north of England that’s showing how UAVs could help with search-and-rescue missions. Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire built several drones and flew them over the Lake District, one the U.K.’s most popular mountain-walking areas. Then they recruited hundreds of volunteers to tag images captured by the aircraft, demonstrating how a drone-plus-crowd combo can efficiently cover a large area.
“There are a number of benefits such as lower financial cost, less risk, and faster deployment of the camera systems,” says Darren Ansell, one of the leaders of the project.
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Volunteers from 25 countries participated in the trial, competing against each other to identify targets. Ansell says the system is not meant to replace helicopters and ground crews, but rather for a first sweep. It could allow rescue teams to make initial sorties, saving manpower for when it’s really needed.
“We expect to use the approach in types of emergency responses where ‘many eyes on’ provides much needed help,” Ansell says. “As we lower the technical barriers to participating we think the community of virtual rescuers will grow, making the operation more efficient.”