Using swarms of drones to locate people buried under debris during a natural disaster is the goal of a collaboration between New Zealand and Japanese researchers.
Canterbury University and Yokohama National University are working on developing technologies to enable the use of drones for search and rescue in large scale emergencies.
Dr Graeme Woodward, from Canterbury's Wireless Research Centre, says the drones could potentially triage casualties by flying formations over disaster areas.
Among the Yokohama researchers is Professor Ryuji Kohno, who Dr Woodward says has significant expertise in body area networks (BANs).
BANs are interconnected devices that are either implanted, attached or carried on the body.
Examples are sports applications where a chest strap is connected to a wristwatch to determine heart rate, measure footsteps or send the data to another device.
Dr Woodward says researchers are studying different ways a BAN signal could potentially be located by a swarm and the different type of signals that may need to be catered for.
Another aspect of the research is about the operation of the swarm.
Standard practice with a drone is to have a pilot who controls the craft, with another person operating the camera mounted underneath the machine.
"We don't want to replicate that with a whole swarm," Dr Woodward said.
"Ideally, we would want one or two people to control the swarm, which must be able to operate autonomously, while the drones also need to be able to communicate between themselves."