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.”
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.
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?