New Drone Builds Its Own Maps, Moves Autonomously

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) do not need a human on board, but they do need an operator. This new drone, however, is more independent.

Researchers in Switzerland have developed a drone capable of building its own maps and moving without the aid of an operator. The micro air vehicle (MAV) is the brainchild of a team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, according to RT.

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New developments in drone technology thanks to Swiss scientists

The drone is able to plan paths in full 3D in completely new environments, according to a report in MIT Technology Review. Despite major advances in UAV technology, the Swiss researchers decided to go one better and make a more independent unmanned craft.

A human operator only need help the drone on an exploratory flight around the area before watching as it flies from point to point by itself. “This is the first time we can show full mapping, re-localization – finding the drone on the map – and planning on board,”researcher Michael Burri told MIT Technology Review.

Testing of the new drone was undertaken at a former industrial site, chosen for its complexity and the number of obstacles in the way of the aircraft.

3D mapping impressive but severely limits flight time

Researchers used the AscTec Firefly, a small quad-rotor craft that weighs 1.6 kilograms. It was fitted with a stereo camera and sensors in order to measure velocity, orientation and gravitational forces.

After creating a 3D map of its surroundings, the operator can block out certain areas where the drone is not allow to fly. It then plans out the most direct route, and the drone will be able to navigate any obstacles in its way.

“The individual mapping and sensor techniques have been demonstrated before, but not all together on an autonomous drone,” says Wolfram Burgard, a professor at the University of Freiburg, Germany. “This brings the technology closer to real-world application in inspection and surveillance tasks.”

As amazing as it sounds, the technology is not cheap and can only stay in the air for a short amount of time. The extra weight of the computer and sensors means that the drone can only fly for 7 minutes at a time, although the researchers claim that this will improve with further research.