A new era in search and rescue operations may be on the horizon, thanks to flying robots that can operate in swarms to cover vast surface areas. Such technology is still in its early stages, however, and is hampered by the limited amount of battery power available for flying – normally only 15-20 minutes. The EU-funded IUAVSJROBERTS (Energy-aware aerial swarm search for efficient search and rescue) project worked on overcoming these limitations with a highly innovative recharging solution that involves a 'hive'.
To achieve its aims, the project team designed a central charging station known as the HiveShip, where members of the robot swarm return to hot-swap their batteries and resume their search. It also studied swarm intelligence techniques to enable collaboration among swarm members and jointly overcome challenges.
Specifically, the team developed a hovering platform with the required sensors to enhance search and rescue. It worked on a battery-changing mechanism that docks with the HiveShip, along with the needed controllers for docking, battery change and continuous operation of multiple hovering agents.
Although the project ended prematurely due to operational and funding challenges, it produced a viable prototype that represents an important step in improving search and rescue operations. If other researchers or projects build on these important results, a new strategy for search and rescue may be born. The terrain is now open to other ambitious projects that can pick up where this one left off.