No. 35 Squadron loadmaster, Flight Sergeant Christian Allison, observes through a C-27J Spartan window during an artificial intelligence search and rescue training mission conducted off the coast of Stradbroke Island, Brisbane.
No. 35 Squadron loadmaster, Flight Sergeant Christian Allison, observes through a C-27J Spartan window during an artificial intelligence search and rescue training mission conducted off the coast of Stradbroke Island, Brisbane.

How AI is helping save lives in search and rescue missions

A NEW artificial intelligence prototype to transform airborne search and rescue missions has reached its second phase of development, with defence personnel from RAAF Amberley putting the system to the test.

The system, called AI-Search, is a highly portable prototype, which combines a sensor and processor to identify life rafts and other waterborne vessels.

It has the potential to enable any aircraft, vehicles or vessels to become an improvised search and rescue platform.

A recent C-27J Spartan sortie from RAAF Amberley off the coast of Stradbroke Island helped evaluate the AI-Search algorithm, with the assistance of the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard.

The AI-Search algorithms are being developed by budding machine learning expert Lieutenant Harry Hubbert from the Warfare Innovation Navy Branch.

"During the sortie, we had a few GoPro sensors rigged up to detect a life raft and two algorithmic approaches working together to increase accuracy and the likelihood of a detection," Lieutenant Hubbert said.

 

Warfare Innovation Navy project manager, Lieutenant Harry Hubbert, on board a C-27J Spartan during an artificial intelligence search and rescue training mission conducted off the coast of Stradbroke Island, Brisbane.
Warfare Innovation Navy project manager, Lieutenant Harry Hubbert, on board a C-27J Spartan during an artificial intelligence search and rescue training mission conducted off the coast of Stradbroke Island, Brisbane.

"This sortie was pretty challenging as the life raft was upside down, making it harder to see for both the human eye and the AI-Search sensors.

"The sensors are trained to detect an orange top, rather than a black top, but the AI-Search still had a 70 per cent detection rate, compared to the human detection rate of about 50 per cent.

"The 30 per cent AI-Search non-detections happened when there was low contrast between dark water and the black underside of the life raft, and the good news is that we had no false positives."

Flying Officer Katherine Mitchell, who piloted the aircraft as part of the search and rescue training exercise, said that it was hard to see the upside-down life raft.

"We barely saw it 50 per cent of the time," she said.

"AI-Search is already picking up more than what we are seeing, it's incredible and it doesn't get fatigued."

The prototype was a collaboration between the air force's Plan Jericho, Warfare Innovation Navy Branch and Air Mobility Group's 35 Squadron.

Wing Commander Michael Gan, Plan Jericho's AI leader, said they were now taking their learnings and iterating the next version.

Read more stories from Paige Ashby.