The University of Portsmouth is part of an innovative artificial intelligence (AI) drone project which aims to save lives on the modern battlefield.
Project ATRACT, which stands for ‘A Trustworthy Robotic Autonomous system to support Casualty Triage’, will see the development of a flying drone that can assist and speed up triage in the critical post-trauma minutes that shape battlefield survival chances.
The project is being developed in reaction to changes to the modern battlefield that make traditional evacuation by helicopter impossible.
Edge Hill University is leading Project ATRACT with support from Portsmouth, Loughborough and Brighton universities. It is funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (UKRI EPSRC) which has provided over £850,000 and will conclude in 2026.
Ardhendu Behera, Professor of Computer Vision and Artificial Intelligence (AI) at Edge Hill University, said: “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.
“When completed ATRACT will be a reliable drone-driven autonomous system that can help frontline medics in decision-making in the ‘platinum ten minutes’ following trauma.”
From design to completion, a unique aspect of the ATRACT project is the creation and use of a bespoke ethical and legal checklist at every stage. AI provides new ethical challenges and we are determined that they are addressed throughout and not just tagged on as an afterthought.
The project will focus on four main objectives that all represent major innovations in the use of AI and Robotic and Autonomous Systems helping to advance a wide range of technologies while remaining part of the same project.
The first stage is to develop advanced sensors so that ATRACT can accurately search for injured soldiers using visual and thermal imaging data while still manoeuvring over and around difficult terrain.
The second and third objectives are focussed on the data ATRACT collects. The research team will combine advanced multimodal AI sensing and state-of-the-art algorithms to detect the location of frontline soldiers and provide real-time monitoring of soldiers’ injury severity and their vital signs for effective triage management.
Finally, ATRACT will have to provide real-time casualty information to a medical team as it approaches, enabling more effective crew resource management and casualty prioritisation, thereby reducing time on the ground, and minimising the risk of the frontline medics being attacked.
“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,” Professor Behera said.
The research team will also incorporate the laws of war, medical ethical principles and UK Ministry of Defence AI and Autonomy ethical principles at every stage of the project.
Co-investigator Peter Lee, Professor of Applied Ethics at the University of Portsmouth, added: “From design to completion, a unique aspect of the ATRACT project is the creation and use of a bespoke ethical and legal checklist at every stage. AI provides new ethical challenges and we are determined that they are addressed throughout and not just tagged on as an afterthought.”