ATRACT project logo

AI-powered drones could help save lives on the battlefield

Image credit: Edge Hill University.

Researchers at Edge Hill University, in Lancashire, have launched a new drone project powered by artificial intelligence (AI) for battlefield triage.

Project ATRACT - aka 'A Trustworthy Robotic Autonomous system to support Casualty Triage' - aims to utilise novel technologies to help increase soldiers' survival chances after the battle.

The researchers aim to develop new sensors, AI systems and an ethical framework to create a fully autonomous system powered by drones that can aid first responders in making critical decisions in the “platinum ten minutes” after a trauma. 

The project is being developed as a response to modern forms of warfare and technological advances, including new and cheap shoulder-mounted rocket launchers that make traditional evacuation by helicopter impossible.

“In the Vietnam War, American evacuation helicopters transformed soldier survivability with the emergence of the ‘Golden Hour,’ using superior air power to evacuate casualties quickly and effectively,” said Ardhendu Behera, professor of computer vision and AI at Edge Hill.  

“However, as seen in Ukraine, the use of low-cost, accurate, shoulder-launched ground-to-air missiles has significantly disrupted helicopter operations, presenting a heightened risk to casualty evacuation operations.” 

At the moment, frontline army medics are often required to monitor multiple casualties and prioritise them based on the severity of injuries. This system is not always the most efficient, so researchers identified an "urgent unmet need" for enhancing casualty survival in a warzone where conventional helicopter evacuations simply aren’t possible.

ATRACT will aim to provide near real-time casualty information to an approaching medical team, allowing for more efficient crew resource management and casualty prioritisation, cutting down on time spent on the ground and protecting frontline medics from harm. 

“While there is much talk of using AI and autonomous platforms as weapons, this project does the opposite, helping to save lives, protect soldiers and make war less deadly," Beherea added. 

The project will centre on several goals to improve ATRACT's technology and make it reliable in high-pressure environments. As part of this effort, the scientists are working to perfect ATRACT’s sensors so that it can easily navigate rough terrain and precisely search for wounded soldiers using visual and thermal imaging data. 

The research team also aims to use cutting-edge algorithms in conjunction with cutting-edge multimodal AI sensing to pinpoint the exact location of frontline soldiers and track the severity of their injuries in real time. 

Dr Khizer Saeed from the University of Brighton’s School of Architecture, Technology and Engineering, said: “Each of the elements of the project represents a significant development in drone technology and artificial intelligence that will enhance research and development for a huge range of other projects around the world.

“We hope to one day see drones like ATRACT helping in natural disasters and terrorist attacks, where saving time is key to saving lives.”

The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) to the tune of £850,000. It is being led by Edge Hill University with support from Loughborough University, the University of Brighton, and the University of Portsmouth.

ATRACT is set to be completed in 2026.

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