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This drone is being trained to follow human screams

Okay, so Terminator 2 was only a few years off with its predictions…

drone fitted with scream-finding equipment
Image: Fraunhofer FKIE

Researchers in Germany have retrofitted a drone with an acoustic finding system to aid in search and rescue efforts. Instead of the usual image recognition routines, the new system listens out for human screams and other types of distress sounds.

These drones would then be used in natural disasters like forest fires, hurricanes, or floods, or building collapses, or missing hikers. Especially in areas that don’t have cell service, this could be a life-saving invention.

The researchers started building up a database of screaming sounds, or other “impulsive” sounds that those needing rescue make to attract the attention of rescuers, like clapping, stamping, or tapping. Those sounds were then fed into a neural network, and then the system was tested to see if it could distinguish the sounds of a human in distress from other sounds.

Yes, the drone has been trained to find human screams, and let me tell you that sounds terrifying to me.

I know this is being developed for a good cause, as drones are a vital part of search and rescue efforts in remote areas. I get that. The thing is, I grew up watching The Terminator. Isn’t a drone that follows human screams just a Hunter Killer?

Still, maybe it won’t get used for unsavory uses. The team at Fraunhofer FKIE has been working on the audio search array for eight years so far, and it’s still ongoing to create better noise suppression and filtering.

When it’s done, the drone will even be able to automatically fly to hover over the area of interest, giving search and rescue teams a clear indicator of where to search.

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