PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — In an effort to assist response teams in emergency situations, a University of West Florida professor and an intellectual systems and robotics doctoral student have developed a framework for 3D modeling using a team of small drones.

Last year, Dr. Hakki Erhan Sevil, assistant professor in intelligent systems and robotics, and Ph.D. student Shane Smith, were awarded a Small Business Technology Transfer grant from the U.S. Air Force for developing a novel swarm navigation method. Their research aims to assist response teams in emergency situations, such as wildfires, disaster relief efforts, and search and rescue missions.

“In an emergency situation, such as wildfire, disaster relief effort or search and rescue mission, rapid identification of details of the environment or potential dangers is paramount,” said Sevil. “Our framework can not only save crucial time in building situational awareness but also deliver this awareness to first responders without burdening their cognitive load.” 

Swarm navigation methods are inspired from nature which provides good solutions to manage groups, such as fish schools, ant swarms and bee swarms. In an emergency situation, responders have limited time to plan their best response. A team of drones could be deployed to navigate the area, create a 3D model rapidly and provide it to the emergency response team, so that they can plan the best rescue operation possible.

Excluding preliminary studies, the process of developing swarm navigation and 3D modeling framework took almost two years for the student and teacher.

“Conducting research takes time and a lot of effort, and it needs perseverance and dedication,” said Sevil. “We have brilliant Ph.D., M.S., and B.S. students in our research group, with different background and experience levels. They have an endless desire for knowledge — curious and motivated to solve challenging problems. And we all learned that, although working on research is challenging, it can be rewarding because it allows you to develop new and novel methods for important, maybe life-saving, topics, and learning new things.”

Their research, titled “Design of a Rapid Structure from Motion (SfM) Based 3D Reconstruction Framework Using a Team of Autonomous Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS),” was published in Journal of Robotics. The team’s next goal is to test their framework in a mockup and small size environment using small size drones in the real-world. 

For more information on UWF’s intelligent systems and robotics program, click here.

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