Search & Rescue Drone

ISU Senior Design 2016-2017

The Challenge

Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis are occurring with increasing frequency around the world, yet manpower, cameras, and binoculars are still our primary way of finding survivors. While survivors cannot use their phones to call for help, they are still radiating signals which can be detected to pinpoint survivors.

The Solution

We propose building a cost effective and mobile survivor-detection platform that can be attached to any drone to autonomously search an affected area. Since 81% of Americans carry a mobile device, we can locate survivors by measuring the signals that their cell phones constantly radiate.



Thermal Camera

These images will  be projected into a map and help us locate survivors as accurately as a few meters. The images can also be sent back to our base station in real time.

Cell Phone Signal Sensor

We will be able to detect survivors by the radio emissions that their cell phones emit when their heat signatures cannot be detected by the thermal camera.

Wifi Sensor

We can also detect WiFi signals with our on board WiFi receiver and count the number of active devices in an area.


Autonomous Flight

Eventually, we hope to build a drone that can fly autonomous flight patterns.

Heat Map

The PI will collect radio-frequency data and thermal data to identify survivors, and broadcast this data to the base station.  The base station will plot survivor locations on a map, link images of survivors to these points, and give a count of found survivors. All of this data will be illustrated on a heat map.

My Role

Team Leader


First Task Description

Thermal Camera Algorithm

Second Task Description

Third Task

Third Task Description

  • 1). 80%
  • 2). 50%
  • 3). 75%
  • 4). 60%

The Results Were Amazing

To improve the location accuracy to search and rescue responders, we will supplement our radio detector system with a thermal camera which uses a different method as a failsafe to pinpoint survivors that are on a roof or out in the open. Although, we intend to equip our detection platform prototype with a low-cost camera, more advanced thermal cameras could even look for people buried in rubble.

If you have any questions or comments about this ongoing project please send us an email!