menu

Autonomous Drone Sees The World Through Smartphone’s Eyes

Autonomous Drone Sees The World Through Smartphone’s Eyes
Innovation

This tiny unmanned copter will take your phone to heights it's never seen.

Rachel Pincus
  • 29 december 2013

One continuing challenge in building autonomous drones has been getting them to figure out where they are in space. The quantitative measures they should see the world determines the precision with which researchers can control them. And so far the efforts of researchers has led to a bunch of different systems that, though sometimes controllable by inexpensive, commonplace devices like smartphones, have a limited ability to inform each other in their common mission because of their expensive, closed systems. Now comes the SmartCopter, developed by graduate student Annette Mossel and her fellow researchers at the Vienna University of Technology. It’s a drone that puts a ubiquitous smartphone onboard, allowing the phone to use its processing power in perceiving the environment.

One of the researchers’ other goals was to create a device that can navigate over very precise distances, particularly indoors. This means that the smartphone’s orienting technologies, such as its magnetometer, accelerometer and GPS must be supplemented; according to the U.S. Government website about GPS, it’s accurate only within a distance of 26 feet. To solve this problem, the smartphone is supplemented with two off-the-shelf web cameras on the drone, which, with the help of an open-source, vision-based platform called PIXHAWK, work together stereoscopically to process visual information about the environment, much like human eyes. Among possible users for this drone, researchers count surveying disaster sites, observing the condition of walls in large, open spaces like churches, and helping people navigate indoor areas such as shopping malls.

The drone still has many limitations that will keep it inside the lab for the time being. Its sense of orientation across a horizontal distance is determined in a fairly crude way, using paper markers that the drone observes from a pre-determined height. Future incarnations might use the smartphone to track features of a room like corners and gradients so that the drone can map out a room without prior intervention. And though a smartphone-based device like the SmartCopter could potentially be cheaper to one day purchase because you supply the CPU, this experimental model, cobbled together from off-the-shelf items like webcams, didn’t yet prove that. Still, this promising device (from the team of a rare female engineering student, no less) could one day save lives.

Annette Mossel

Image: FastCo Labs

Sources: FastCo Labs, original research paper, MIT Technology Review

Trending

Machine Printer Uses Coffee Drips To Create Intricate Portraits

Arts & Culture
Technology december 2, 2016

Why Nest Doesn't Get The Holidays

PSFK founder reacts to the damaging effects of poor email marketing

Children december 2, 2016

Robots Could Be Joining Dubai’s Police Force In 2017

The real-life RoboCops can salute, shake hands and collect traffic fines

Trending

Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Retail 2017

See All
Travel december 2, 2016

Parka Hides And Charges Portable Devices

Bolt is a jacket that lets people carry and charge their various electronics without the need for an outlet

Related Expert

Fernando Santana

Coworking In Sharing Economy

Food december 2, 2016

Yelp's New 'Yelfie' Feature Lets Diners Take Selfies

The update is designed to encourage people to attach a selfie when they share their experiences

Design & Architecture december 2, 2016

Build Your Own Savory Cheese Advent Calendar

A British food blogger has created a guide to building a different kind of holiday surprise

Fitness & Sport december 2, 2016

Floating Gym Concept In Paris Is Powered By Your Workout

The proposed design from Carlo Ratti Associati lets passengers ride a stationary bike as they travel through Paris along the Seine River

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Retail 2017
Transformation Strategies For Customer-First Business
NEW

PSFK Op-Ed december 1, 2016

Communications Officer: What This Holiday Season Means For Millennial Shoppers

Dallas Lawrence of the Rubicon Project shares why holiday cheer is all about likes, views and retweets

PSFK Labs december 1, 2016

Retail Spotlight: Home Depot Reimagines How Employees Conduct Tasks

The home improvement retailer puts the customer first by initiating local fulfillment centers and simplifying freight-to-shelf inventory management

Syndicated december 2, 2016

What Does The Future Of Android Look Like In A World With The Pixel?

Google’s decision to make its own phone might have looked like a blow to the likes of Samsung but the reality is much more interesting

Retail december 2, 2016

Customer Service Expert: Why Offline Retail Has Better Data Than Online Retail

Healey Cypher, Founder and CEO of Oak Labs, shares why we should be thinking about the physical store as an e-commerce site

Fashion december 2, 2016

Alexander McQueen Designs A 3D-Printed Umbrella

3D-printed fashion arrives in time for the winter season

Work december 2, 2016

Why Training Associates To Be Advocates Is Key To Retail Success

In our Future of Retail 2017 report, PSFK Labs discusses strategies to prioritize customer service, which begins with associate advocates

Media & Publishing december 2, 2016

Netflix Creates Binge Candle To Celebrate A New Season Of Gilmore Girls

The streaming service developed a special layered candle that creates candle with episode-specific smells

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders
NEW

Arts & Culture december 2, 2016

Interactive Film Tells A Story About Living With Cancer

A moving song written by a father of a cancer patient comes alive in a 3D environment

Automotive december 2, 2016

Audi And LEGO Exhibit Autonomous Vehicle Installation

The installation at Design Miami explores the 25th hour, which represents bonus productive work or play time

No search results found.