“[Drones] can cover a larger area in a shorter period of time than rescuers or trained dogs on the ground,” Varela said. “If there’s a collapsed building, it can alert and assist rescuers. It can go places they can’t fly to or get to themselves.” Unmanned aerial vehicles or drones are commonly used for search-and-rescue missions when disasters strike. Most often, they take aerial images of structural damage. Some have thermal imaging capabilities to scan for body heat, while larger drones can deliver medical supplies and other goods to people in isolated areas. But researchers are finding more novel uses for an extra set of eyes in the sky — and noses. The University of Washington imagines drones that use smell to locate disaster survivors. The Aerospace Corporation is working on drones that can visually identify dogs and share their location with rescue teams. The University of Zurich developed a drone to change shape midflight to fit into oddly shaped crevices. Locating people using aerial acoustics presents its share of challenges. An auditory system would need to decipher between human cries and sounds that often happen in nature, such as animal calls and wind. It might also need to recognize patterns associated with kicking, clapping or other ways people try to get the attention of rescue teams.
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