We’ve Innovated and Created an AI- Powered Rescue and Reconnaissance Drone : Our Story of Grit and Determination

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“Ideas are cheap, execution is everything.’’ — Chris Sacca

Senior Year: The Design Project (Thesis)

2017-2018: We are already 5th Year Student. We are fast approaching to our final year in college. We are now going to graduate! But before we graduate the final requirement is to have the Design Project ( equivalent to thesis). There is a plot twist. The three department in college of engineering (EE, ECE, CpE) decided to do a collaboration to widen the scope of the design project. As far as i know the intention of the collaboration is to diversify the group and solidify the design. I know many things happened in forming the group and it deserves a separate story.

The Idea and the Team

It was late afternoon, our group called a meeting and we agreed that we will meet in study area. This is my first time, seeing my group mates, almost all of them are quite new to me. I was 5 minute early before our agreed time. The members of the group is now completed. The first thing that we’ve done is to introduce ourselves. Immediately we already pitched in our ideas for the project. The criteria for an idea to be accepted must be: 1.It must be unique 2. It should be useful. 3. It should be doable. A lot of ideas has been pitched in and we agreed to vote what idea should be included in the proposal. I raised a condition that whosoever idea that will win, he/she will automatically be the leader of the team. To make the story short. My idea was chosen to be included in the project proposal.

There are a lot of questions running in my head. Like, Can I pull this off? Is this idea possible? Can we graduate on-time? How much is the cost of this project? As much as we take our time to brainstorm, we should make our first move in order for us to finish this project in time. I presented this idea to our potential adviser and we’re very thankful that Engr. Rufo Marasigan Jr. accepted and supported our proposal.

The team is composed of diverse group of people. We are 7 in total in our team. We are composed of 2 Computer Engineering Student, 2 Electrical Engineering Student, 3 Electronics Engineering Student, (all of them are now professional engineers), (Steven Atienza & Patrick Alas ,CpE) (Hamza Darping & John Byron David, EE) (Brenguiler Bagbaguen, Michael Oray, Christa Viguilia, ECE)

Project Name

During our brainstorming, we’ve decided that we should have a catchy name. It should be named after a bird since our project is all about drones. One of the members of our team came up with the idea that it should be named as RAVEN. And everybody pitched to form acronym. We’ve came up with the name Response Aerial Vehicle for Emergency Notch (actually pinilit namin yung name) RAVEN.

Why we are doing this? (Our Motivation)

Aside from the fact that this is a mandatory requirement for us to graduate. We are determined to create the system for us to help and make an impact in disaster response. We are challenging the possibility of drone utilization for rescue and recon. Let me tell you our story why we started this project.

Story Behind: Typhoon Yolanda

We’ve got the inspiration to build this project, because of the Typhoon Yolanda. It was very clear in our mind how devastating that typhoon was, and it claimed thousands of lives. I’ve seen on the news that rescuers are doing their job but they are quite a bit helpless because they don’t know the scope of the damage and they cannot do immediate rapid assessment. They manually search and retrieve the missing bodies. I thought that this kind of strategy is much less efficient compared if you have a real time data on what’s inside the situation.

Why Use Drone?

By the time of our brainstorming, drone technology is emerging in the market. With the increase of demand and the development of open source community of drones, the price and parts of the drone became accessible to us even we are just student. We’ve chosen the drone as the platform because according to our RRL, it is one of the efficient way of doing rapid aerial assessment. The drone is also easy to deploy and it has also an advantage because of its portability. After some computation and deliberation of the team we’ve come up with the design and schematics that will fit into our design criteria. The schematic was based on the existing open source designs. Some minor tweaking was applied for this to fit to our preferred criteria

Why Artificial Intelligence ?

2017-2018: I can say that these years are the rise of the artificial intelligence, though that time the Plug and Play for machine learning is not that easy. We’ve chosen to incorporate the use of AI for the drone because this is the only plausible solution for the system to detect the people that needs to be rescued. And AI + Drone is quite a bit interesting project why not explore this field.

The System: AI + Drone + App + Dashboard

The final product is an ecosystem of integrated mobile apps + dashboard that visualizes the produced output of the AI.

The Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The team had developed an object detection AI using google tensor flow and existing dataset on the internet. The team was able to detect any form and shape of a person in an aerial perspective. The AI automatically captures the image and location if it detects a person. The AI throws the data into our backend server in realtime, if it detects a person, the Backend server will then sync the data across our two platforms : mobile and web dashboard. This will enable realtime and rapid assessment even if the drone is still on the survey mode.

Above images are the sample captured images feed by the AI to the system. It records the screenshot of the capture and it also returns the GPS coordinates of the location.

The Dashboard

The Dashboard will serve as an interface to the command center. The command center can view the birds-eye of the whole situation. This dashboard is GIS based dashboard and it has some analytics for captured data.

The Mobile App: App for the Rescuer/Person in the field

The team also developed a mobile app that can be very useful for the rescuers in field. Just like the dashboard, the user can view the pictures and locations of the images in real-time that was feed by the AI. The app helps the rescuer locate the pinned target using the waze-like system of tracking pinned location in map. The app was developed in android device system. It utilizes the google map API in GIS data manipulation. The rescuer can tap whether that particular pin was rescued or it is just false alert. The false alert data will help improve the AI in the long run.

The Drone

The drone is custom built based on the criteria that was set. It has also custom communication system in order to securely transmit data to the main server computer. It has also employed optimization of electronics to maximize the battery and flight time of the drone.

Our Struggles and Challenges

There was saying “Ideas are cheap, execution is everything”. This saying is very true in our case. The execution of the project is very challenging in our part. But we still remember that we are problem solvers and innovators and not we don’t do this for the sake of passing the subject but we are aiming to have an actual impact in disaster response. I’m very thankful for my team mates for the full support. I’m really thankful for our adviser Engr. Marasigan for the guidance and straight real suggestion on how to improve our system.

You may wonder why the execution is the much harder phase? We need to finish our project within less than 6 months. Our team is doing in parallel the development of dashboard, mobile app, optimization of communication system and optimization of the flight time of the drone. we are doing everything just to make this project happens. To think we are not that expert in drone and we are not licensed to fly the drone in public area. So we’ve choose to fly this in a private open field just to finish the data collection and gathering. Here is the video of our actual testing of Drone.

The Final Result

Before the semester ends we’ve able to pull off the final result of our project. Finally our hard work pays off. We were seeing the fruit of our labor.

Our Defeats and Victories

Our First Defeat

January 2018, we’ve qualified to do an exhibit in UP- Engineering Student Council. Of course we are excited because for the first time our project will be showcased outside our school. At the same time we’re quite worried because our test data is not that ready to support our claim and we have not done a super rigorous testing. But we are still thankful for the overwhelming support of our Departments and the endless supports coming from our friends. (Thank You Guys!). This is my first time presenting to the panel. And Honestly I panicked! and in the end we did not received any award. Yes, it is difficult for us because somehow we’ve lost. But that event is very memorable to us because we’ve meet different people from other schools. And we’ve really enjoyed that event.

After that Epic Defeat, we did not stop and dwell on that situation.. But we continued to pursue excellence.

Our Series of Victories after our first Defeat

The Science and Technology Exhibit

We’ve invited to represent the Computer Engineering to the Science and Technology Exhibit. A big thanks to our adviser for pushing us to join the exhibit. Thank you sir for constantly believing our team. We’ve received an award for this exhibit. And most important we have received a cash prize for this. (Hehehehe). Our team of course rejoiced with this victory. It was such an honor to receive an award for this.

We are invited to present our Project to the VP of our School

It was a rare moment to be invited to present to the VP of our school. . It was such a great experience because not all students had a chance to present the project to the higher ups of the school. It is such a fun day. We’ve enjoyed that day.

Philippine Association of Engineering Schools (PAES)

We are not expecting to qualify on this , because there are 13 big universities that are involved in this competition and only 5 entries will be qualified for the final round. One day, I received a message from our adviser that we are qualified for the final pitch. I was overwhelmed and filled with joy because we are not expecting this to happen. These are the top 5 qualified project.

We’ve garnered a place qualifying round. And now it’s time for the final round. The final round was held in UST faculty of engineering, It was a little bit pressure. But after all of the presentation we’ve received an award. Yehey! It was a great victory Indeed. It makes my college a very memorable One.

My Take

First of all I would like to thank the whole community of Department of Computer Engineering. To our very supportive department chair Engr. Enriquez and to our ever supportive adviser Engr. Marasigan. I would like to thank also my group mates I believed that until today I still cherish the friendship and bonding that we’ve experienced. I believe that God orchestrated everything in order for this to happen. I was reminded of the constant Grace of our Lord. He made everything in order.

Never Give Up! This phrase is very true until now. I’m still thinking what would happened to us if we ever give up on the challenge just because we’ve experience inconveniences.

Rejection is Normal in the Process, Take it as a challenge! yep, in doing this project a lot of rejection happened to our team. But we’ve set to our mind that rejection is normal. Embrace the Grind, Trust the Process.

Trust the Process, When you plans is not working for the first time go back to the start. Look for the process. Whether it seems that some things are not necessary and it adds burden to you. You need to trust the process, don’t take shortcuts. This is one of the many lessons that I’ve realized after doing the project

Your Team Mate is your best asset. This project proves everything that my team mate is my best asset. Find a way to utilize the ability of your team mate, Make their talent work for you.

Put heart in all you do. This is very real to me until this time. In all you do “bigyan mo ng puso”, it means giving the best of your ability. My motto :The reflection of my work reflects the work of my Creator.

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