Las Vegas students win Drone Focus competition with search and rescue drone

search and rescue drone

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[Editor’s Note: The key part of the AISAR (Advanced Intelligence Search and Rescue) drone is the microphone which can detect the frequency of human voice.]

Out of five students teams who competed at yesterday’s Drone Focus Conference, a team of three from University of Nevada – Las Vegas took home first place with a design for a search and rescue drone.

The students, Kimberly Gonzalez, 19, Glen Ellefson, 19 and Alexis Sanchez, 20, have designed a six-propeller drone which they call AISAR: Advanced Intelligence Search and Rescue (another teammate, Ian Souza, was unable to attend the conference). The key part of their design is a microphone that can detect the frequency of human voice. Such a drone could be used to locate people in natural disasters, hikers lost from the trail, etc.

“When the person sees the drone they can shout at it, scream at it. Microphones on the drone will be able to triangulate where the person is calling from, and we’ll have an infrared camera to verify it’s a person,” he said.

The students are all sophomores studying mechanical engineering. They said they heard of the competition after their professor asked if anyone wanted to work on a drone project. Prior to that, “we didn’t know a thing about drones,” Sanchez said.

“The technology now for drones is very significant, and it’s booming like crazy,” Ellefson said. “Having the opportunity to work on a drone project was really enticing.”

The team, called Rebel Rescuers, looked into search and rescue because they see it as an area that could use improvement — and drones as part of the solution, they said. Sanchez enjoys hiking in his free time and has heard the stories of hikers who go missing for 24 hours or more.

“The main concept behind [this project] is to improve the success rate of search and rescue missions,” Sanchez said.

It took the team, months of brainstorming and hours in the library to put together their project, they said. When they finally made it to Fargo on June 1 for the Drone Focus Conference and met their competition, one of whom who had already built and sold a company, “it was intimidating,” Ellefson said.

Not to mention the experts in the audience, including executives at NASA and the Department of Defense. Or the fact that none of them had ever pitched something before.

“To be honest, I didn’t think we were going to win,” Gonzales said. “But I still wanted to present something well.”

One nerve-wracking pitch and a few questions from the judges later, and team Rebel Rescues was awarded the Drone Focus Student competition first place trophy. The team was beaming as they held the trophy together.

Afterwards, John Cavolowsky, Director of NASA’s airspace operations and safety program, spoke with them about requirements for launching their project. Others in the audience, leaders in the unmanned aircraft industry, offered their own encouragement and advice.

The award included the option to earn up to $32,000 in funding from the Innovate North Dakota grant. The funding will come in phases, starting with $2,500 and increasing with each phase as the program monitors their progress. The team plans to use the first phase of money to develop a prototype of their drone.

The one requirement for the funding is that they incorporate North Dakota in their company, they said.

“We have to be headquartered in North Dakota or have offices here,” Ellefson explained.

“We’re moving to North Dakota, guys!” Gonzalez said, jokingly.

Needless to say, this is not the last that North Dakota will be seeing of team Rebel Rescuers.


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