IBM Hursley gives life to cognitive innovation

In part one of this article we looked at how drones are being combined with IBM cloud services to develop an unmanned aerial vehicle to aid in search and rescue. In part two we will look at real-life applications for the cognitive drone.

A team of students at the Imperial College London wanted to push the boundaries of drone technology. It wanted to test whether integrating current drone technology with IBM cloud cognitive services would enable them to create an unmanned aerial vehicle, which could aid with search and rescue. When an incident occurs, often the terrain being searched spans vast areas, or it’s a dangerous environment to send first responders to. By deploying a drone to the area first, you could assess the situation and locate those people who are in need of rescue, before putting human life at risk.

After testing the solution against different scenarios, the team proved that drones were a viable option for first response following an incident. So what impact does this have on our day-to-day lives?


Emergency situations

While there are many business applications for drone technology, we see one of the most important applications as assisting first responders in emergency situations. There has been lots of recent news coverage about both natural and man-made disasters; these are dangerous situations for the emergency responders, who are often blind to what they’re walking into. Using drone technology, it would be possible to quickly assess the situation first. The cognitive systems on-board can capture, analyse and interpret the images it’s seeing below, to pass on valuable information to the ground crew, enabling them to prepare, become familiar with their surroundings and prioritise actions.

Some time ago I attended a hackathon and met a really interesting guy who was developing a fleet of drones to assist with forest fires. Forest fires can change quickly, and the benefit of deploying a drone is:

  • It’s quicker to deploy: the Air Ambulance can be airborne in four minutes, compared to a drone that takes seconds.
  • It’s cheaper to run: the Metropolitan Police say the direct operating cost deploying a helicopter is £850 per flying hour.
  • It’s safer: unlike drones that don’t require a pilot, data from shows there were 405 helicopter accidents over a three-year period resulting in 108 fatalities.

However, the truly awesome thing about drones is that it’s possible to train a cognitive engine. It means that when a drone is deployed, it’s not just relaying images it captures overhead, it can actually understand and interpret what it’s seeing to provide context around what it can see. The drone can identify people in distress and send the first responders directly to them, while providing vital data on the environment, such as temperature and air quality.

Festivals and outdoors events

Every year the UK hosts about 225 festivals during the summer. But despite it being a time for enjoying some great music and a bit of fun in the sun, whenever there’s large gatherings of people, there’s potential for incidents to occur. Covering such large areas, and with huge crowds, it can be challenging to police and ensure that everyone is safe.

But this is where drone technology can be effectively applied. Quick to deploy and cheap to run, drones could be used to monitor the event from above. Flying overhead means they can capture an overview of the whole event to identify any areas that require further investigation. Then using cognitive technologies on-board, the drone can determine exactly what is taking place, and feed that information to the emergency services. All this information can be sent back to a central command centre on the ground, where appropriate personnel and resources can be deployed directly to the area of concern, or to the people in distress. The application of this technology will give festival goers peace of mind knowing help can get to them quicker, should they need it.

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