Saving lives with tech

2020 Fall / Innovation / November 16, 2020
Two SAIT research projects and the common goal they share.

RESEARCHERS AT SAIT’S Centre for Innovation and Research in Unmanned Systems (CIRUS) are bringing together sensor technologies, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and one of the world’s most advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to detect and map landmines. And that’s just the beginning.

Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) such as live mortar shells and landmines pepper the planet. Hidden or barely buried in unsuspicious terrain, these ERW caused more than 120,000 casualties between 1999 and 2017, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Victims are often civilians going about their day-to-day lives, or workers attempting to clear the devices.
An explanation of what Beyond Visual Line of Sight means when working with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)

“Many of the millions of ERW remaining in post-conflict zones are made with plastics, so using metal detectors is dangerous and ineffective,” says Sara Ashoori, geospatial analyst and project coordinator with CIRUS, part of SAIT’s Applied Research and Innovation (ARIS) department. “Our goal is to create an airborne method for detecting landmines that is faster, cheaper, more accurate and risk-free.”

She’s leading a research team of 14 SAIT and University of Alberta graduate students working with the latest technologies, including Airborne Ground Penetrating Radar. “SwissDrones — a Swiss-made unmanned helicopter with the ability to carry up to 45 kilograms — brings everything together,” says project manager Alan Rezazadeh.

“We have the only SwissDrones SD O50 V2 unmanned helicopter system in all of North America,” says CIRUS Lead Researcher Shahab Moeini. “It means we can mount and use a number of airborne sensors, then correlate all the captured data from the project site in real time.”

While the focus of this particular project is the detection of landmines, Ashoori sees huge potential for other life-saving applications. “The same sensors can potentially find avalanche victims or victims of mining accidents buried underground.”

She’s excited by the possibilities, and she’s not alone.

“Canadian government representatives have contacted us to see how they can help advance our research,” says Moeini. “This is technology that can be in the hands of the United Nations or any other international organization or assembly like the government — to save lives.”

“This is technology that can be in the hands of the United Nations or any other international organization or assembly like the government — to save lives.” — SHAHAB MOEINI // CIRUS LEAD RESEARCHER

In a completely different but equally important project, the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services are partnering with SAIT and the Stoney Nakoda Nations to conduct a trial UAV fly-in, fly-out of medical supplies and mock coronavirus test kits to the Morley reserve west of Cochrane.

“When there is an outbreak, you are not allowed to go into the vicinity,” says Moeini. The carrying capacity of SAIT’s SwissDrones UAV makes it possible to deliver the ultimate contactless emergency support to remote locations. This particular trial involved flying the SwissDrones about 30 km beyond its pilot’s visual line of sight (see the sidebar on flying UAVs Beyond Visual Line of Sight).

“Everything went according to plan,” says Moeini. “Alberta Health Services has since reached out to us to perform other similar tests in different areas as an expansion of that project.”

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