South Dakota School of Mines develops flying swarm drones

Published: Feb. 15, 2019 at 7:51 PM CST
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South Dakota School of Mines students could potentially save lives and change the agriculture industry with some new technology.

Starting in August, a couple of students at the South Dakota School of Mines worked on these 10-inch wide drones. They can fly together like a swarm of birds, without any manual control.

"They actually work on the hardware and also the software that's going to make them more intelligent. So our students are actually doing cutting edge research with our faculty experts to take these drones to the next level," South Dakota School of Mines Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Head Magesh Rajan said.

Each drone has thermal cameras and sensors to detect nitrogen levels in fertilizer. Farmers can use these drones as a unit to disperse nutrients along fields more evenly.

The drones even have a tiny sensor that can actually detect with visible light the difference between a colored area and just white tiles.

These drones can also help protect the lives of cell tower workers.

Instead of sending a person to climb several hundred feet up to fix a problem, the drones can fly up and analyze what needs to be repaired.

"Need to have millions of people doing these inspection activities every other day. So some of these tasks obviously need to be automated. I'm not saying we should not have any humans in the loop. But some of the activities, whatever can be automated. But we should not create more safety concerns with the drones," South Dakota School of Mines Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor Shankarachary Ragi said.

Ragi said AT&T is interested in these drones. Ragi and AT&T are currently discussing about possibly using these drones for the company's thousands of cell towers.