A high school student from Collingwood celebrated a big win last week, bringing home a silver medal at the Canada Wide Science Fair.
Chloe Hill, a grade 12 student at Pretty River Academy, placed second in the senior category for her autonomous search and rescue aircraft.
Utilizing autonomous technology and algorithms she developed herself, Hill’s aircraft intends to aid in search-and-rescue efforts by being able to search efficiently to provide a faster first response for people at risk of drowning in open water.
“The goal of my project was that the aircraft could find people in the water without a pilot,” she said. “It creates a search pattern through machine learning.”
Her aircraft, an octocopter, deploys rapid inflatable life preservers. Hill’s programming and a unique algorithm power her autonomous search software and predicts the optimal search area and pattern based on current, wind and sea levels.
“The original concept came from the idea that in rough weather, a boat could not see over the waves and airplanes take way too long to dispatch and get to the location, so my idea was kind of in between,” she said.
As part of their curriculum, every student at Pretty River Academy enters the Simcoe County Regional Science and Technology Fair. At the beginning of the school year, they pick a topic they’re passionate about and integrate their learning from each discipline.
“It is a long-term project that provides opportunities to learn and practice skills they will need to succeed in university and their career,” said Chris Fischer, principal at Pretty River Academy.
“It’s a cool opportunity,” Hill said. Hill got the idea for her project following a worrisome experience of her own. She spent a summer working at a sailing school, and one day a few people ended up getting lost on the Great Lakes. The search and rescue team couldn’t find them.
Fortunately, the group was found by a paddle boarder not much later, but it got Hill thinking.
“The autonomous search-and-rescue aircraft can see with much more detail than a plane can, but from above, unlike a boat,” Hill said.
Last month, 27 students from Pretty River Academy presented their science fair projects at the regional fair, bringing home 65 awards.
Of those, five students earned a spot at the Canada Wide Science Fair which took place virtually from May 16-20. Of them was Hill, who received gold in the engineering category at the regional competition.
“We grow scientists!” laughed Fischer. “It is the perfect way for our students to meet the two goals we have for each of them.”
Hill transferred to Pretty River Academy last September, so it was her first time participating in the fair. She started working on her project back in September and over the course of the year, estimates she spent about 1,500 hours on it.
She has been racing drones for almost six years now and already had an interest in the technology, so when it came time to bring her idea to fruition, she was pretty confident she could make it work.
“I’ve had a lot of experience constructing them and making them do what I want them to do,” said Hill.