Super-speedy drone zips past obstacles autonomously

4 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

MIT Drone Autonomously Avoids Obstacles at 30mph.

With a 34-inch wingspan, the drone would cost about $1,700 to build, and uses off-the-shelf parts including two cameras and a processor, according to a statement from MIT CSAIL.A researcher at MIT has released a video of an autonomous drone equipped with an advanced obstacle-detection system that can map its surroundings to successfully evade hindrances, traveling at speeds previously unreached by a self-flying UAV.

Andrew Barry, a PhD student at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (CSAIL) lab, has created a drone that can detect obstacles up to 10 meters (32 feet) away at a rate about 20 times faster than current software allows, according to an MIT press release. Typically, software in autonomous drones examines images taken by an on-board camera for objects at various distances — 3 feet ahead, then 6 feet ahead, etc — to build a picture of the drone’s environment. Tradition algorithms capture images at multiple distances to watch for obstacles, meaning the amount of processing power needed will only allow a drone to fly about 6 miles per hour, at most.

LIDAR data supports activities such as inundation and storm surge modeling, hydrodynamic modeling, shoreline mapping, emergency response, hydrographic surveying, and coastal vulnerability analysis. Barry, however, set his drone to detect only what is 10 meters away. “You don’t have to know about anything that’s closer or further than that,” Barry said. “As you fly, you push that 10-meter horizon forward, and, as long as your first 10 meters are clear, you can build a full map of the world around you.” “Everyone is building drones these days, but nobody knows how to get them to stop running into things,” Barry said. “Sensors like lidar are too heavy to put on small aircraft, and creating maps of the environment in advance isn’t practical. LIDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth. If we want drones that can fly quickly and navigate in the real world, we need better, faster algorithms.” Barry’s drone weighs just over a pound and has a wingspan of 34 inches. These light pulses—combined with other data recorded by the airborne system— generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics.

It was built using off-the-shelf components costing around $1,700, not advanced radar systems employed by companies with deep pockets, such as Walmart, Amazon, and Google, that currently seek to develop autonomous drones for commercial purposes. “Our current approach results in occasional incorrect estimates known as ‘drift’,” he said. “As hardware advances allow for more complex computation, we will be able to search at multiple depths and therefore check and correct our estimates. Topographic LIDAR typically uses a near-infrared laser to map the land, while bathymetric lidar uses water-penetrating green light to also measure seafloor and riverbed elevations. NOAA scientists are using LIDAR to produce more accurate shoreline maps, make digital elevation models for use in geographic information systems, to assist in emergency response operations, and in many other applications.

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