November 9th, 2012
Autonomous craft can fly around trees, poles and fences
(SteveWatson) – Those pesky terrorists, always jumping over fences and running off into the trees. Exactly how is the Pentagon going to track their every move when they are so adept at such feats? The answer may come in the form of a new unmanned drone developed by DARPA that can autonomously dodge obstacles.
IEEE Specturm reports that Researchers at Cornell University, with funding from DARPA and Defense contractor Lockheed Martin, have developed hardware that acts like a brain when it receives information from a camera, enabling a drone to dodge any obstacles it flies too close to.
Software operating with the camera creates a 3D model of the surroundings and fires a “network of artificial neurons”. The drone’s “brain” then determines what objects are in its path and plots a route around them.
The researchers say that in 53 out of 55 “autonomous flights in obstacle-rich environments,” the drone avoided everything in it’s path and did not crash. In 2 of the tests it did collide with objects. The researchers say this was due to wind factors. They hope to develop the technology further to incorporate this, as well as moving objects, such as birds or planes.
In their paper, entitled Low-Power Parallel Algorithms for Single Image based Obstacle Avoidance in Aerial Robots, the researchers note: “In outdoor robotic experiments, our algorithm was able to consistently produce clean, accurate obstacle maps which allowed our robot to avoid a wide variety of obstacles, including trees, poles and fences.”
It is clear that this technology is intended for domestic use.
As we have noted, the FAA’s recent legislative onslaught has opened up US skies to drones operated by the military, federal government and law enforcement agencies, and private companies. However, critics have pointed out that the FAA’s own safety tests have proved anything but convincing.
DARPA and Lockheed are clearly hoping that this new development will go some way to silencing those critics.
Critics it will not silence, however, are those concerned for their privacy. Activists have rounded on their local government representatives in many areas of the country, in an attempt to stop the drone invasion before it gets out of hand.
FAA documents recently obtained and released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation have confirmed that the roll out of domestic unmanned drones will, for the most part, be focused solely on spying on the American people. When applying for a license to operate drones, an overwhelming amount of operators stated that they intended to use the devices for surveillance.
And don’t think you can run off into the woods to hide. The DARPA drones are coming…