With Hong Kong people getting more health conscious, sports like hiking have become increasingly popular. One downside of that, according to Government statistics, is that over 1,000 mountain search and rescue calls are received each year, resulting in roughly 200 casualties. Noting the massive expertise and resources this involves, fresh graduates of the Higher Diploma in Data Science and Analytics programme of the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (IVE) have developed a drone-based search and rescue support system for extreme terrains named “SkyEye”, making good use of big data and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. SkyEye recently won first class award in the higher vocational education group of the 2019 Pan-Pearl River Delta Region University Student IT Projects Competition.
LEE Wai-shun, a fresh graduate of the IVE programme, found out with his three classmates that mountain search and rescue work required considerable manpower and resources. This inspired them to research the issue, aiming to contribute to society through technology. “When conducting mountain search and rescue work, drones are often deployed by firemen for taking wide aerial shots of the spot. Images are sent back to a computer for visual scanning to identify critical clues for the rescue. The process is both laborious and time-consuming”, said Wai-shun.
Expediting search and rescue process with technology
Wai-shun and his teammates hence set out to study how to combine the use of drones with big data and AI technologies for search and rescue work. CHAN Tsz-hei, another of the team members, explained, “It is difficult for rescuers to walk up and down precipitous mountain slopes, which are often the high risk locations for hikers. The advantage of using drones is that they can easily reach any spot and take real-time images, especially on steep slopes. With a view to expediting the search and rescue process, we explored the practicability of deploying drones to take real-time images, locate human bodies with the aid of AI technology, and finally pinpoint and display the location of the rescuee on a screen via a mobile application.”
SkyEye wins first class award in 2019 Pan-Pearl River Delta Region University Student IT Projects Competition
After several rounds of tests, the team entered their invention into the 2019 Pan-Pearl River Delta Region University Student IT Projects Competition held earlier this year and took first class award in the higher vocational school category.
Arion KO Kin-wa, Acting Senior Lecturer of IVE Information Technology Discipline, who led the team’s participation, said the competition allowed contestants to apply what they had learned in an interesting way. During the year they spent developing the system, the team were solving problems that arose in the process. Mr KO recalled, “A ‘crash accident’ occurred in the course. The students were testing the system on campus when the drone became stuck in tree branches and fell into some bushes on a slope. This made the students realise that automatic route planning and height control devices needed to be incorporated into the system to enable the drones to avoid large obstacles such as trees.”
Wai-shun has since progressed to the B.Sc in Computer Science programme offered by City University of Hong Kong for this academic year. He noted that the competition had reaffirmed his future development plans. “The experience earned from this project has made me realise the importance of data, and the fact that data must be analysed to become meaningful. I hope to further my studies and contribute to society by developing different projects with my professional knowledge in big data and AI technology in future”, Wai-shun said. His counterpart, Tsz-hei, is now pursuing a B.Sc (Honours) in Data Science and Analytics programme at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Tsz-hei says he hopes to continue equipping himself with such knowledge, so that he can improve the community through technology.