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Every minute counts when locating and saving natural disaster survivors, therefore the use of drones equipped with daylight and thermal imaging cameras is becoming increasingly widespread. The problem arises when it comes to victims who cannot be seen by cameras.

Researchers at Fraunhofer FKIE have come up with new technology to solve this issue- drones equipped with microphone arrays in order to precisely locate various acoustic signals (like cries for help) from victims from the air and give the rescue team information about their location. This initiative would significantly increase the chances of a rapid rescue for victims who cannot be spotted by camera.

This new solution is called LUCY, which is an array of MEMS microphones (known as a crow’s nest array) that is mounted on drones in order to determine the direction from which noises (cries for help, clapping or knocking) are coming.

According to Techxplore, this system is special due to the microphones being attached to the underside of the drone in a special geometric configuration to perceive sound from all directions. LUCY works similarly to the human ear, which takes in sound information and conveys it to the brain where it is analyzed. With LUCY, the ears are replaced by microphones, and the brain is replaced by a signal processing unit that determines the direction from which the noises are coming.

The system is able to block out distracting ambient noises from nature or even from the drone itself- AI protocols and adaptive filters are used to filter out signals while the system is taught to detect sound patterns like shouting, banging, or clapping, since they may be used to attract attention. The system does so by using a database of different sounds or signatures that the AI has been trained on in advance.

LUCY is extremely scalable and can be used on numerous commercially available drones, and since the microphones and the drones are both relatively cheap, multiple UAVs can be simultaneously used to effectively investigate the disaster zone. For transportation, LUCY’s low weight enables emergency responders to carry the system with them wherever it is needed, and it can even be mounted on vehicles or used as stationary equipment.