Wednesday, 23 October 2019 10:53

Researchers use camera drones to distinguish living from dead

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A drone reading the vital signs of a live body and a mannequin. A drone reading the vital signs of a live body and a mannequin. Supplied

Researchers from the University of South Australia and Middle Technical University in Baghdad have designed a computer vision system that can distinguish living bodies from the dead from four to eight metres away.

A statement from UniSA said the only condition that needed to be met was for the upper torso to be visible. The cameras could pick up movements in the chest cavity that indicated the heart was still beating and breathing was taking place.

Previous systems had relied on changes in skin colour and body temperature.

The leaders of the study, Professor Javaan Chahl of UniSA and Dr Ali Al-Naji of Baghdad, demonstrated in 2017 that a camera on a drone could measure heart and respiratory rates.

When changes in human skin tone were used to detect signs of life, the camera needed to be within three metres of the body which needed to be in an upright position, not lying prostrate as is normal in a disaster zone.

Ali Al Naji lying prone

Dr Ali Al-Naji of Baghdad's Middle Technical University lying prone on the ground during the research. Supplied

Thermal cameras have also been used in the past, but they are only usable in situations where the temperature between the body and the background differs. Additionally, if the body is wearing insulated clothing, then the unreliability factor tends to increase.

“This study, based on cardiopulmonary motion, is the first of its type and was performed using eight people (four of each gender) and a mannequin, all lying on the ground in different poses,” Prof Chahl said.

“Videos were taken of the subjects in daylight, up to eight metres away, and in relatively low wind conditions for one minute at a time, with the cameras successfully distinguishing between the live bodies and the mannequin.

“This system would be ideal for many situations, including earthquakes and floods, nuclear disasters such as Fukushima, chemical explosions, bio attacks, mass shootings, combat search and rescue or where a plane has crashed in a remote area.”

Prof Chahl said additional tests needed to be done to refine the system for use when weather conditions were adverse and when bodies are partially obscured.

The findings have been published in the journal Remote Sensing.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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