The idea of a swarm of flying robots might bring to mind old science fiction movies and alien invasion threats, but scientists at Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, believe that these flying robots could be very helpful to the community.
In fact, the Swiss Institute is working on a project called Swarming Micro Air Vehicle Network, abbreviated as SMAVNET, that is, precisely, a swarm of miniature robots that fly over an area where there a natural disaster just occurred, and that are able to re-establish communications, giving rescuers the opportunity to optimize relief operations.
In case of disaster or calamity, what is often not possible is to exactly assess the damage, as it is impossible to establish a telephone contact with the affected areas.
SMAVNET is based on a number of MAV (Micro Aerial Vehicles) built out of lightweight material, weighing only 400 grams each, with an electric motor powered by a battery which provides power for approximately 30 minutes of flying time.
Equipped with an array of sensors and navigation equipment, SMAVNET robots are guided over the affected area, and at that point, thanks to the wireless network that keeps them in constant communication with each other, forming a sort of node that acts as a flying antenna, and allows to maintain communications between the rescuers’ operational base, and rescue workers directly located in the area.
The robots are able to operate autonomously, but can also be controlled via a user interface installed on a computer connected wirelessly, which can control the entire swarm at once.
Although the flight time of 30 minutes is rather low, the EPFL team has demonstrated, however, the reliability of the system. The next step will be to extend the batteries life to provide a longer operating time.