Drones are becoming common in the commercial and consumer space. However, while the skies now hold plenty of unmanned aircraft, many drones are still controlled by humans, albeit from a distance. A new project is showing how that is slowly changing an artificial intelligence is starting to take control of drones.

Scientists in Zurich are giving drones the AI ability to fly themselves. Using what they call “vision algorithms” the researchers are able to implement AI into even drones that can be bought off the shelf.

The artificial intelligence can give the drones self-governing ability to fly autonomously and map areas.

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Professor Margarita Chli of the Vision Robotics Lab says the team use “dense surface reconstruction” data-set. This has been specifically designed to give drones learning abilities to adapt to their environment.

Using just one camera and a sensor, almost any drone is able to take off, fly, navigate, and create 3D maps.

Professor Chli explains how the technology works:

“We start off with zero knowledge about where the drone is. The pilot clicks a button so that the drone takes off, as soon as the autonomous mode is on the drone starts perceiving its environment, it starts building a map of its visual landmarks on the goal, and judging how these move – how these landmarks move – from one image to the next. Then the drone is really reasoning about its motion; essentially the motion of the camera.”

Research Results

The obvious result of this tech is that it will give drones the ability to operate within human interaction. They will also be able to create 3D maps in real-time while flying over a landscape. This has clear implications for search and rescue, an area where drones are already becoming important tools.

In a Reuters report Professor Chli says, “drones can really offer a unique platform that moves very agile and very fast in the environment. It really moves in 3D so it can really fly up and quickly gather the overview of, for example, a disaster area.”

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