Clearing the way: Autonomous drones built with sensors to avoid objects

There are many hurdles manufacturers of drones face before they will be able to deliver packages using UAVS, but the solution to one problem may be just around the corner.

In fact, the solution could involve more corners as they attempt to stop drones from bumping into objects when flying autonomously.

One inventor is trying to achieve this by building a smart  drone that can sense objects around it and avoid crashing into them. The drone will have a series of sensors attached to it as well as having a wind turbine built in.

A flight controller system is being developed to stabilise the drone in high wind situations to ensure it can fly without crashing.

The founders say: “The flight controller is brain of GreenCopter that will determine copter’s behavior in terms of thrust, lift, agility, and system failure situations.

“The system will feature protection scheme in case one of the motor fail during the flight where GreenCopter will initiate return to launch coordinate and land safely.”

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The manufacturers say the drone will use wind and solar power to reduce the need to be charged from traditional power sources. It will also have the ability to conduct autonomous flights and also avoid collisions at the same time.

The drone will be able to land itself automatically and charge itself when it runs low on power or loses communications with the operator.

It is set to feature eight infrared and ultransonic sensors that will help the drone to avoid objects in its flight path. The sensors are set to be mounted at each side of the drone and be able to detect objects at a maximum distance of almost 200 inches.

The drone can carry up to 88lbs when it is flying.

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The biggest challenge for the project at present is the ability to mount the wind turbine on the drone and ensure its balance during flight.

Potentially the solution to the problem is a algorithm in the flight controller and sensor system.

Writing on their their crowdfunding page, the founders of the project say: “The campaign is aimed to set new grounds to new breed of UAVs through an R&D process that leads to many classes of UAVs.

“The new classes will hold a key essence to any individual and that is simplifying tasks carried out each day.”


Images courtesy of GreenCopter


To infinity and beyond: Teaching drones to interact and work together

Drones are able to reach places that humans cannot and by teaching them how to work together it is hoped they can be used in crisis situations such as search and rescue missions.

One such robotics project at the University of Sheffield, UK, is trying to teaching quadcopters to learn from the environment they are in by 3D mapping what is in front of them.

The team from the university is also trying to enable the quadcopters to interact so it is possible they can work together.

Researchers are trying to programme the drones with intelligence to allow them to complete more complex tasks in environments that are unsafe for humans, such as areas affected by nuclear radiation or outer space.

The new programming developments in these robots enhance their learning and decision-making capabilities.

Professor Sandor Veres, who is leading the project, said: “We are used to the robots of science fiction films being able to act independently, recognise objects and individuals and make decisions.

“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.”

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A team from the university is trying to teach the drones to achieve this level of intelligence by using a computer concept called game theory.

In game theory, robots treat their tasks as a game, record and learn from the behaviour of the other robots they encounter, and draw from their experiences to try to ‘win’.

Though the theory is based around competition, it encourages compatibility and teamwork within a group of robots.  As they learn to predict each other’s next moves, they avoid collisions and increase efficiency.

The quadcopters collect data through attached forward facing cameras that allow them to create 3D maps of their surroundings, also sensing barometric and ultrasonic information to add to their understanding.

The improved processing of this data will allow them to work both with humans and other robots, a skill that will be crucial if the robot is to work in high-pressure situations.

While quadcopters are being developed for emergency aid and for use in dangerous environments, other flying robots are being honed for recreational purposes.

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AirDog, an action sports drone, acts as a flying video crew. It follows its users through a tracking bracelet as they participate in sports like BMX, surfing and wake-boarding, taking high-quality videos and photographs.

The Airdog is manufactured by 3D printing, which allows for a lighter, less expensive design that can be sold as an accessible consumer product.

Essentially a quadcopter for the extreme sports market, the AirDog can record angles that a human could only achieve by filming from a helicopter.

Users program the desired distance, height and speed levels before they release the drone, and then it follows the user according to the desired specifications.

These different devices show just a small range of the possible applications for advanced flying robots.

Their ability to easily travel to places that humans cannot reach without the aid of a plane or helicopter makes them incredibly useful in all kinds of situations, from search-and-rescue missions to package deliveries. What other uses will we find for these sky-roaming drones?


Featured image courtesy of Kaometet, first body image courtesy of Steve Lodefink, second body image courtesy of Helico Aerospace Industries.