Virginia Tech strives towards search, rescue improvement


Blacksburg, Va., May 5- Drone Park: Virginia Tech’s drone park has been a resource for students, faculty and researchers since it opened up last Spring. The park is a tool for anyone experimenting with high tech equipment such as drones. Photo: Michaela Kreiter

by Michaela Kreiter & Dillon Campbell–

A group of Virginia Tech engineers is teaming up to improve the function of lost person search and rescue ventures. The researchers have come up with the idea to use drones to perfect these searches.

According to Lauth Investigations International, experts believe that around 1,600 people go missing each year while visiting parks. A 2017 survey reported a grand total of 3,453 search and rescue incidents within national parks.  Virginia Tech’s engineers want to improve these missions by decreasing search times, increasing the success of the search and improving efficiency.

This project was initiated by Ryan Williams, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech. Williams has close ties to search and rescue missions due to his families’ history of being part of professional search and rescue crews. The projects start up was all thanks to a $1.5 million grant from The National Science Foundation.

Within the next four years, the team plans to have all of the basic technology built. By next Fall they plan on deploying the drones and putting them on display. “Our overall goal is to bring about a tablet that actually balances the drone capability with the human capability in a much more precise way,” said industrial and systems engineering professor Nathan Lau.

Lau’s focus is geared towards the user interface between the drones and the humans. He’s responsible for figuring out how the drones will interrupt searchers to provide new information.

Along with Lau’s research, there are many other key elements that go into creating these drones that will perform at a great capability. Biomedical engineering and mechanics professor Nicole Abaid is focusing on the drones’ function and where they’ll be going to search. “Each engineer thinks differently and it’s important to have different kinds of brains focusing on a project like this,” said Abaid.

With the assistance of Lau and Abaid, this project is expected to be fully functioning within the next ten years. Lau went on to discuss some of the long term effects of this project. He’s hoping that one day it will expand to help with other missions, such as natural disasters.

“In engineering, we like to do stuff that is useful,” said Abaid. “Then beyond that this a nice opportunity to help other people.” Abaid went on to mention that long term, she fully sees this project being used by search and rescue teams, whether that is ten years from now or 20.

Virginia Tech’s innovation campus will continue to work on projects just like these, continuously striving towards inventing the future.


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