Skydio Demonstrates Incredible Obstacle-Dodging Full Autonomy With New R1 Consumer Drone

The Skydio R1 is years ahead of just about any other autonomous drone we’ve ever seen Image: Skydio Almost two years ago, a startup called Skydio posted some video of a weird-looking drone autonomously following people as they jogged and biked along paths and around trees. Even without much in the way of detail, this was exciting for three reasons: First, the drone was moving at a useful speed and not crashing into stuff using only onboard sensing and computing, and second, the folks behind Skydio included Adam Bry and Abe Bachrach, who worked on high-speed autonomous flight at MIT before cofounding Project Wing at Google[x] (now just called X). The third reason we were excited about Skydio’s drone was that, as much as it looked like a research project, it was actually designed to be commercialized, and today, Skydio is (finally!) announcing their first product: the R1, a fully Continue reading Skydio Demonstrates Incredible Obstacle-Dodging Full Autonomy With New R1 Consumer Drone

Modeling Uncertainty Helps MIT’s Drone Zip Around Obstacles

This drone keeps track of what it doesn’t know to quickly plan aggressive maneuvers Photo: Jonathan How/MIT CSAILCatch that drone! It’s not too hard to make a drone that can fly very fast, and it’s not too hard to make a drone that can avoid obstacles. Making a drone that can do both at once is much more difficult, but it’s necessary in order for them to be real-world useful. At MIT CSAIL, Pete Florence (in Russ Tedrake’s lab) has developed a new motion planning framework called NanoMap, which uses a sequence of 3D snapshots to allow fast-moving (10 m/s) drones to safely navigate around obstacles even if they’re not entirely sure where they are. Here’s a video of MIT’s drone in action. Don’t worry if you don’t catch all the details, as we’ll take a crack at explaining what’s going on afterwards: I don’t mind telling you, this is Continue reading Modeling Uncertainty Helps MIT’s Drone Zip Around Obstacles

Cleo Robotics Demonstrates Uniquely Clever Ducted Fan Drone

This donut-shaped drone, not technically known as a dronut, offers a tasty combination of safety and ease of use Photo: Evan Ackerman/IEEE SpectrumCleo drone prototype at CES 2017. At last year’s CES, Cleo Robotics was showing prototypes of a palm-sized drone with a design unlike anything we’d ever seen. Shaped like a donut, the Cleo drone is essentially a ducted fan, with a pair of completely enclosed propellers (one on top of the other) and then a camera, battery, and electronics housed inside the shell. It’s compact (95 mm in diameter, 33 mm thick, 90 grams), elegant, and inherently safe, since the nasty spinny bits are all tucked away. With fewer motors than conventional quadrotors, it promises to be more efficient as well, and quite possibly cheaper. But if you look closely at the picture, you’ll probably end up with the same question that I did: How the heck does Continue reading Cleo Robotics Demonstrates Uniquely Clever Ducted Fan Drone

Drones That Smash Into Obstacles Can Be a Good and Useful Thing

The usefulness of bumbly, bouncy microdrones Image: Vijay Kumar Lab/UPennJust like bees, these microdrones can bump into things, including each other, and continue flying without a problem. A little over a year ago, we wrote about some clumsy-looking but really very clever research from Vijay Kumar’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania. That project showed how small drones with just protective cages and simple sensors can handle obstacles by simply running into them, bouncing around a bit, and then moving on. The idea is that you don’t have to bother with complex sensors when hitting obstacles just doesn’t matter, which bees figured out about a hundred million years ago. Over the past year, Yash Mulgaonkar, Anurag Makineni, and Luis Guerrero-Bonilla (all in Kumar’s lab) have come up with a bunch of different ways in which smashing into obstacles can actually be a good and useful thing. From making maps to increased agility Continue reading Drones That Smash Into Obstacles Can Be a Good and Useful Thing

How to Fly a Drone With Your Face

Send your drone flying by making a ridiculous face at it Image: Simon Fraser University It’s nice that consumer drones are getting easier and easier to use, incorporating more safeguards and autonomy and stuff. Generally, though, piloting them does still require some practice and skill, along with free hands and a controller that’s probably more expensive than it should be. This is why we’ve been seeing more research on getting drones set up so that unaltered, uninstrumented, and almost entirely untrained users can still do useful things with them. At Simon Fraser University, roboticists are seeing how far they can push this idea, and they’ve come up with a system for controlling a drone that doesn’t require experience, or a controller. Or even hands. Instead, you use your face, and it’s totally intuitive and natural. As long as it’s intuitive and natural for you to make funny faces at drones, Continue reading How to Fly a Drone With Your Face

AI-Powered Drone Mimics Cars and Bikes to Navigate Through City Streets

Deep-learning algorithm uses car and bicycle dataset to fly a drone autonomously Photo: Robotics and Perception Group/University of Zurich Two years ago, roboticists from Davide Scaramuzza’s lab at the University of Zurich used a set of pictures taken by cameras mounted on a hiker’s head to train a deep neural network, which was then able to fly an inexpensive drone along forest paths without running into anything. This is cool, for two reasons: The first is that you can use this technique to make drones with minimal on-board sensing and computing fully autonomous, and the second is that you can do so without collecting dedicated drone-centric training datasets first.  In a new paper appearing in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters , Scaramuzza and one of his Ph.D. students, Antonio Loquercio, along with collaborators Ana I. Maqueda and Carlos R. del-Blanco from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, in Spain, present some new work in which they’ve trained a drone Continue reading AI-Powered Drone Mimics Cars and Bikes to Navigate Through City Streets

Useful and Timely Delivery Drone Drops Life Preserver to Australian Swimmers

A drone delivery that we approve of Photo: Little Ripper Lifesaver Late last year, we wrote about how Australia was paying a stupendous amount of money to try using drones and artificial intelligence to detect sharks off of popular beaches. We were skeptical, mostly because it’s hard to make a convincing argument that shark attacks are actually that big of a problem, in Australia or anywhere else, compared to other, bigger problems that we might want to address first. One of those bigger problems, in Australia and in many other places, is drowning—in Australia in 2016, about 120 people drowned on the Australian coast, 60 times more people than were fatally attacked by sharks. Fortunately, the drones doing the shark spotting also happen to carry life preserver pods along with them, and last week, a drone being used for training managed to save a pair of struggling swimmers 700 meters off the coast Continue reading Useful and Timely Delivery Drone Drops Life Preserver to Australian Swimmers

Microdrones That Cooperate to Transport Objects Could Be Future of Warehouse Automation

Teams of small quadrotors use just a camera and IMU to help each other transport cargo Photo: University of Pennsylvania Last month, we wrote about autonomous quadrotors from the University of Pennsylvania that use just a VGA camera and an IMU to navigate together in swarms. Without relying on external localization or GPS, quadrotors like these have much more potential to be real-world useful, since they can operate without expensive and complex infrastructure, even indoors. One potential application for drones like these is disaster operations, but honestly, that’s just what everyone says when you ask them how their mobile robot could potentially be useful. What’s much more interesting to us are commercial applications, and with drones, that inevitably means talking about delivery. There are a lot of reasons why we’re skeptical about most commercial delivery drones, but that doesn’t meant that the idea of using drones to move things from Continue reading Microdrones That Cooperate to Transport Objects Could Be Future of Warehouse Automation

This Autonomous Quadrotor Swarm Doesn’t Need GPS

Without GPS or any other kind of external localization, a dozen of UPenn’s quadrotors can fly in formation outdoors Image: UPenn/YouTubeUPenn’s autonomous quadrotor swarm doesn’t need GPS or external localization to fly indoors or outdoors. The vast majority of the fancy autonomous flying we’ve seen from quadrotors has relied on some kind of external localization for position information. Usually it’s a motion capture system, sometimes it’s GPS, but either way, there’s a little bit of cheating involved. This is not to say that we mind cheating, but the problem with cheating is that sometimes you can’t cheat, and if you want your quadrotors to do tricks where you don’t have access to GPS or the necessary motion capture hardware and software, you’re out of luck. Researchers are working hard towards independent autonomy for flying robots, and we’ve seen some impressive examples of drones that can follow paths and avoid obstacles Continue reading This Autonomous Quadrotor Swarm Doesn’t Need GPS

Eagles Are Out and Registration Is Back In a Not-Fun-Week for Drones

No more anti-drone eagle squads? Photo: Dutch PoliceNo more anti-drone eagle squads? Remember back when you could fly drones without having to pay the government money first, and when the only thing you had to worry about was a midair takedown by an anti-drone hit squad made up of highly-trained Dutch eagles? We’re sad to have to report that we probably won’t be seeing compelling videos of eagles handling rogue drones anymore, and also that the United States government has flexed its muscles and mandatory drone registration is now back on. First, the bad news. You probably remember how the FAA finalized its mandatory drone registration rules just in time for the holiday season in 2015. Any drone that weighed more than 0.55 pounds was required to be registered before being flown outdoors, a process that involved providing your complete name, physical address, mailing address, email address, and a credit card that Continue reading Eagles Are Out and Registration Is Back In a Not-Fun-Week for Drones