Drones Could Team Up to Rescue People in Danger

Design breakthrough may enable drones to carry objects together.

New developments in drone technology may soon make it possible for them to work together to save lives.

Drones, once deployed mostly for military purposes, are becoming increasingly useful away from the battlefield, including public safety, construction and recreational use. But a significant limiting factor to drone use is their inability to lift heavy objects. While they are prized for their portability and maneuverability, drones can carry very little by themselves.

Dr. Jonathan Rogers, assistant professor at Georgia Tech, is working to change that. He is designing robotic drones that will link together to lift heavier objects, specifically wounded soldiers or injured civilians in a disaster area. His work is part of the emerging field of cooperative flight control in which multiple drones collaborate to connect to an unfamiliar object and move it in a stable manner.

Rogers’ drones can lift 65 pounds on their own. In theory, though, they could cooperate with two or three other drones to lift and carry a person 500 yards away to safety. Each drone would analyze the target’s size, weight and center of gravity, and share that data with other drones. The drones would then work as a team to lift and transport the object — without colliding with each other or dropping their cargo. Rogers’ team has developed special adaptive flight control algorithms that allow the drones to coordinate their actions.

The researchers are trying to solve the challenge of how the drones would pick up a human being. Rogers has developed a docking device that the drones would use to attach to inanimate objects. While it has been tested successfully, it would be poorly suited for picking up people. His team is evaluating manipulators with soft grips that could safely lift a person.

The ultimate goal, Rogers said, is to create drones that will be beneficial to society. His docking device promises to be a key piece of equipment for companies in many sectors. He hopes his current work on drone teams will make them more useful to the public, and what could be more helpful than rescuing people in distress?

Interested in more about drones and autonomous flying vehicles? Check out Drone Age: Rise of the Flying Robots.