Engineers Building Intelligent Drones That Learn as They Fly


Engineers at the University of Sheffield in England are developing autonomous, flying robots that can co-operate.

Using a quadcopter as a base – a small helicopter with four rotors – the British research team has developed a robot that uses a mounted camera to “learn” about its surroundings, starting with no information about its environment or the objects within it. Then, using reference points and different angles, it builds a 3D map of its surroundings, with additional sensors picking up barometric and ultrasonic data. Autopilot software then uses all this data to navigate safely and even seek out specific objects.

“We are used to the robots of science fiction films being able to act independently, recognise objects and individuals and make decisions,” said Professor Sandor Veres, who is leading the research. “In the real world, however, although robots can be extremely intelligent individually, their ability to co-operate and interact with each other and with humans is still very limited.

“As we develop robots for use in space or to send into nuclear environments – places where humans cannot easily go – the goal will be for them to understand their surroundings and make decisions based on that understanding.”

These robots will eventually be able to interact and co-operate with each, with the end-goal being “fleets of machines” that can work on complex tasks. Currently, the robots can recognize either other in flight and navigate around each other without collisions.

Source: Press release

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