A team at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden is working to develop a fully autonomous drone system that will improve the effectiveness and response time of maritime rescue missions.

As part of the project “Quadcopter, fixed-wing and marine drones for search and rescue,” a team from Chalmers is developing a brand-new, entirely automated system for search and rescue operations. To independently search a region, notify authorities of persons in need, and offer basic aid before crewed rescue vehicles arrive, the system depends on water and air-based drones collaborating, university announced in a press release.

The marine component of the project uses a prototype autonomous catamaran that was created initially for other university studies. It has been tested in automated equipment deployment at sea, modified for port inspection and monitoring, and sent out for autonomous sub-sea measurements. This mothership, which will be assigned to a predetermined search region at sea, houses a computing unit, GNSS and IMU systems, as well as a link for local area communications and an internet uplink.

Xin Zhao, a post-doc in the fluid mechanics division at Chalmers said, “the project is based on the simple principle that different drones have different advantages, and by allowing several different types of autonomous drones to work together, search efficiency and rescue response speed can be significantly improved, with the potential to save more lives.”

The maritime drone, Seacat, offers both a local communication link and an internet uplink that are utilized to coordinate the flying drones. The fixed-wing drones’ launch pad is also part of it. All drones that are in the air are outfitted with cameras and a GPS. All drones are capable of fully autonomous movement; the marine drone travels along a predetermined path with a closed circuit. Fixed-wing drones are automatically assigned to search zones following a clever algorithm that makes the best use of the drones at its disposal. A quadcopter is dispatched to the area to capture images when a fixed-wing drone spots items in the water. Using the marine drone, the images can subsequently be transmitted to a ground rescue facility.

For its part, the rescue centre can dispatch the quadcopter with supplies. One of the winged drones is taken out of service when its battery runs low and lands nearby the Seacat drone so that it can be automatically picked up, recharged, and then sent out once again.

The Fluid Dynamics Division of the Department of Mechanics and Maritime Sciences worked along with the Vehicle Mechanics and Autonomous Systems Division to design the drone system.

At Chalmers, the maritime drone and the wing drones are completely original designs that are constructed and tested

The team consists of the Fluid Dynamics Division’s Tomas Grönstedt, Xin Zhao, Isak Jonsson, Carlos Xisto, Ola Benderius from the Vehicle Mechanics and Autonomous Systems Division of the Department of Mechanics and Maritime Sciences, Leif Eriksson from the Earth Sciences and Remote Sensing Division of the Department of Space, Earth and Environment and Christian Berger from the Software Engineering Division of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

With financing from the Transport Area of Advance, the project is being carried out inside Chalmers’ research infrastructure Revere. In September 2022, the project will end.


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