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IIT Madras students develop an 'Eye in the Sky' for disaster relief

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The Times Of India
09th October, 2019 21:21 IST

NEW DELHI: Indian Institute of Technology, Madras students have developed an ‘Eye in the Sky’ for disaster management and humanitarian aid services. A team from Centre for Innovation (CFI), IIT Madras, is building drones enabled with artificial intelligence and computer vision to develop an end-to-end solution for identifying accurate and critical information on people trapped in disaster-hit areas.

According to the team, which includes two second year mechanical engineering students, one third year electrical and one computer science engineering students, what makes ‘Eye in the Sky’ unique is that its analytical modules are based on the latest available technology with the team creating their own databases for some of the modules. Occluded people detection and swarm intelligence modules are entirely state-of-the-art and work is based on the experience of past data on disaster management.

Highlighting the technical innovation behind this project, Lt Gen (retd) PR Shankar, faculty advisor of the team, and professor of practice, department of aerospace engineering, IIT-M said: “The eye in the sky is an innovation based on futuristic disruptive technologies. It will be a powerful tool for saving lives and providing succour during disaster relief and humanitarian aid operations.”

Shankar added, “With further marginal development it can be extensively used in surveillance operations. The innovation is platform agnostic and has immense value. It is not without reason that Microsoft and Lockheed Martin have recognised this effort. The innovation team is working with NDMA and armed forces to develop and deploy indigenous technologies for totally Indian solutions to Indian problems. I sincerely wish this team all success.”

The ‘Eye in the Sky’ team won the finals of Indian Innovation Growth Programme (IIGP 2.0) University Challenge held at IIT Bombay recently. They were among ‘Top 18 Innovative Startups’ from all over the nation and will receive Rs 10 lakh-worth equity-less funding. The team has also received ‘Microsoft AI for Earth’ grant given to only 390 projects globally.

The India Innovation Growth Programme (IIGP) 2.0 is a unique tripartite initiative of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), government of India, American global defence manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corporation and Tata Trusts.

Indian Air Force and Army readily respond to the needs of the affected community in all possible ways. ‘Eye in the Sky’ can also help them to conduct an efficient aerial survey, to help provide food and water supplies and other medical and safety aids to marooned and trapped populations. It can also help them to rebuild a collapsed communication channel and can provide navigation support.

The team plans to collaborate with hardware companies that can provide scalable drone technology to conduct the required spot surveillance of disaster struck areas. Large technology corporations that work with organisations like United Nations that conduct disaster relief operations also have mutual gains from collaboration besides NGOs that specialise in disaster relief operations are also potential collaborators.

Ayush Parasbhai Maniar, student member, UAVs for Disaster Management, CFI-IIT Madras, said: “We propose to use a team of drones which can scan the entire disaster-affected region in just a few minutes, analyse, and provide critical data that could potentially save lives. The final aim of our startup is to make end-to-end drone software solutions which can be used by any disaster response force of the world and thus help in saving thousands of lives.”

Some of the advanced and innovative technologies that team has worked on as part of this project would include deep learning for highly accurate person detection, person detection from high altitude, low altitude person detection, consciousness detection, occluded person detection and autonomous mission execution by drone, among others.

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