AI recognition drones to help find missing people, and it runs on a phone

Police Scotland has unveiled a new aerial drone system to help in searches for missing and vulnerable people.

The remotely-piloted aircraft system (RPAS) can see things we can't try to work out where people are.

It uses advanced cameras and neural computer networks to spot someone it is looking for - from "a speck" up to 150 meters away.

Its recognition software is compact enough to be run on a phone, with technology learning as it goes.


"The drone itself has very special sensors on it," said Insp Nicholas Whyte, of Police Scotland's air support unit.

"There's a very highly-powered optical camera which can allow us to see things quite clearly from a good height. Also, there's a thermal imaging sensor that detects heat.

"We're there to find people. People who need our help or people who are lost."

The matchmaker in the partnership is CENSIS, one of Scotland's eight not-for-profit innovation centers.

The CENSIS remit is to bring together private businesses and the public sector to exploit advances in sensing, imaging and the so-called Internet of Things.


Drones are an increasingly common sight. Outwardly, this one looks no different apart from - almost inevitably - a flashing blue light.

But the data this drone gathers is processed in real-time. The software can discern a person, animal or vehicle from just a handful of pixels in a huge moving color image.

How? Because they taught it to.

Prof Carl Schaschke, dean of the School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences at UWS, said it could spot someone from up to 150 meters away.

two police officers operate the drone and the data recognition

"It does that by being shown images, multiple images, time and time again until it recognizes what the objects are from pretty much any orientation," he said.

"It really is quite a low-cost approach to this - it simply uses a mobile phone."

A search needs just two police officers to operate it: one to fly the drone, the other to use the recognition software.

And It's Said That It's Not a spy drone

The technology of this kind inevitably raises questions of privacy and civil liberties, but Insp Whyte is adamant that this is not a spy drone.

"This is a very overt policing tool," he said.

"We're not hiding anything. It's there to help people, it's there to find people.

"We'll comply fully with all the human rights legislation - in fact, a data protection impact assessment has been carried out and we review that yearly. Also, before we deploy we'll use social media to tell the public this is what we're doing.

"So we're very open and transparent about how we deploy the drones."



Enjoyed this article? Stay informed by joining our newsletter!


You must be logged in to post a comment.

About Author