SARDO experimental drone tracks missing person via cell phone

The German research institute NEC Laboratories has developed a drone that is able to track missing persons based on the signal from their mobile phone. To this end, the SARDO (Search-And-Rescue DrOne) experimental drone has an AI-based system that determines an increasingly accurate position determination during the flight. It is also possible to contact the owner of a phone via the drone, even if the mobile network is down.

SARDO experimental drone tracks missing person via cell phone

Dynamic positioning

One of the problems that first responders encounter during large-scale calamities such as an earthquake, avalanche, or flood is that the GPS reception of the telephones of missing persons is sometimes lost. This can make it difficult to determine the position of possible victims remotely, especially if the mobile data network has failed or if there is simply a remote location with no coverage.

The SARDO offers a solution by combining a mobile base station with an autonomous flight controller based on (AI). During a flight over a disaster area, the drone continuously measures the signal strength of a mobile phone in the area. Because the signal gets stronger or weaker while flying, an estimate can be made of the distance to that phone, and hopefully also to its owner. By dynamically varying the flight path in all three dimensions, the position of the mobile phone can be determined at a given moment. The system works even when the phone changes position.

Targeted search

“SARDO combines the increasing penetration of mobile devices in our society with the ability of drones to reach difficult locations. We can now combine these technologies to build a stand-alone localization system that effectively supports in emergency operations. The system can be up and running in minutes and the complexity of using the system is kept to a minimum, ”said study leader Antonio Albanese.

It is even possible to have the drone determine the unique identification number of the SIM card. In this way, the drone can search for a specific person in a certain area, provided that the authorities give permission. In collaboration with the mobile network operator, it is then possible to contact a victim, thanks to the temporary mobile network from the drone. And during large-scale calamities, it is also possible to have several SARDO drones fly simultaneously.

SARDO experimental drone integrates with existing drones

The technology behind SARDO can also be implemented in existing commercial-made search and rescue drones, says the research lab. In this way, the technique is very versatile and can be used by different types of first responders.

Sardo Experimental Drone Tracks Missing Person Via Cell Phone 1

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This article first appeared on and is written by Wiebe de Jager who is also a DroneXL contributor.

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Wiebe de Jager

Wiebe de Jager (@wdejager) is the founder of Dronewatch and author of several bestselling books about drone photography. Wiebe is a certified drone pilot and has a full ROC license.

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