Drones are already playing a part in helping search and rescue teams assess areas that are dangerous for humans to enter. But researchers at UC Santa Barbara believe they can be made even more useful by allowing them to see through solid walls.
You'd expect such a feat to require some form of new tech, but that's not the case. UC Santa Barbara professor Yasamin Mostofi's lab managed to demonstrate how two drones working together using wireless signals and clever software can 3D map hidden objects.
As the video below demonstrates, the two drones are equipped with the necessary hardware to send and receive wireless signals. They fly either side of the hidden object with one drone transmitting wirelessly to the other through the visual obstruction, in this case brick walls.
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The key to identifying the object inside is the received signal strength indicator (RSSI), which is a measurement of the power present in the signal one of the drones is receiving from the other. Software developed by the team is then used with this data to generate an accurate high-resolution 3D image of the object.
The lab first produced a method for seeing objects hidden using wireless signals back in 2010. However, that was a 2D method and relied on ground-based robots. This new 3D method is much improved thanks to the greater range of movement a flying drone offers during the mapping process.
In a search and rescue situation the addition of this ability to see through walls is highly desirable if, for example, the location to be searched has no entry point for a drone. Searching for anyone trapped inside can be done externally instead. The research team also point to potential applications in archeology and structural monitoring. I imagine bomb disposal teams may also have a use for it depending on how high the imaging resolution can be pushed.
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