"It is the kind of thing that in 20 years will be commonplace. We have designed it for mountain rescue but it could be used for other things, like police searches and border control," said project team leader Thomas Offord from Loughborough University in Britain.

The swarm system uses up to 10 UAVs operating together, flying at about 50-55 mph and able to search an area of 12 square miles using GPS (global positioning system).Each has an infra-red camera, and they can 'talk' to each other. So as long as one is in range of base, they can all communicate with the rescue team.

An image processing code developed by the researchers enables the cameras to detect human beings. The researchers used computational fluid dynamics, backed up by wind tunnel testing, to make sure the UAVs flew and could withstand gusts of wind up to 64 km an hour.

The prototype system that uses up to 10 UAVs, all working together, is potentially cheaper than using helicopters and quicker than rescuers on quad bikes."A lot of search and rescue teams are charities, so anything to reduce costs is good. This would be cheaper than calling out helicopters which are expensive," said Simon Howroyd, a researcher at Loughborough University.