Autonomous fixed-wing drone threads the needled in a parking garage

We’ve got something of a love affair going on with quadcopters, but there’s still room for a little something on the side. This fixed-wing drone can pull off some pretty amazing navigation. MIT’s Robust Robotics Group is showing off the work they’ve done with the plane, culminating in a death-defying flight through a parking garage (video after the break). This may not sound like a huge accomplishment, but consider that the wingspan is over two meters and repeated runs at the same circuit brought it within centimeters of clipping support columns.

Unlike the precision quadcopters which depend on stationary high-speed cameras for feedback, this drone is self-contained. It does depend on starting out with a map of its environment, using this in conjunction with a laser rangefinder and inertial sensors to plot its route and adjust as necessary. We think the thing must have to plan a lot further ahead than a quadcopter since it lacks the ability to put on the brakes and hover. This is, however, one of the strengths of the design. Since it uses a fixed-wing approach it can stay in air much longer than a quadcopter with the same battery capacity.

[via Reddit]

Comments

  1. Destate9 says:

    This is hardcore badass. The stuff that goes on at MIT is rediculous. They must have soooo much fun!

  2. eric says:

    “needled” -> “needle”.

  3. DarkStormTrooper says:

    Dang! that is freaking awesome! Even better that they seem to have used commercially available electronics to power this drone.

  4. tomas316 says:

    turning on the 3D in youtube is kind of cool.. never seen that before.

  5. Jo says:

    ….sweeet….

  6. Robot says:

    Did it seem at all clear if they created training data from remotely piloted flights? If they didn’t need training data then I am beyond impressed.

    – Robot

  7. Daniil says:

    While watching the onboard camera footage the only thing I could think of was: “Now this is Podracing”

  8. me says:

    too bad it will just be used to murder people

    • Barefoot says:

      Only after Skynet becomes operational…

    • wjp4bs says:

      Although some SUAVs are being developed with the idea of being weaponized, (see the AeroVironment Switchblade) most of the drones in the SUAV category are not offensive. Most of these drones are used for surveillance. More often than is advertised, these SUAVs wind up SAVING lives. Knee jerk reactions to cool technology may seem to be the politically cool thing of the moment to do, but really all it proves to me is that you might just be a Luddite. If you need someone to explain what a Luddite is, you are more likely to be one.

  9. Ryoku says:

    I remember about a decade ago there was this pod at the mall near my house that allowed you to ride a virtual roller coaster or look threw a pilots eyes in a dog fight with a MIG. I would love to see one of those pods take the gimble and video from this thing and go on a crazy ass joyride, it would be a hoot.

  10. MikrySoft says:

    Inertial navigation supported by some sort of terrain recognition (map plus laser rangefinder in this case) ain’t new. Tomahawk missiles have their TERCOM guidance system working the same way since eighties. This probably has better resolution though.

  11. alucard says:

    TERMINATOR FUTURE ? where is shara connors ?

  12. aonbe says:

    I wonder if this can already be scaled down from two meter wingspan to something that would realistically be usable in more cramped indoor and outdoor environments.

    The much hyped tacocopter could be one upped by an autonomous airplane, delivering the hot food payload to a user choosen spot by dropping a parachuted package.

  13. GeneralChat says:

    Nice, this is more impressive than the quad-copters.

  14. bzroom says:

    the “training data” appears to be simulation based. they probably validated their simulation against the real model. then flew a thousand flights in simulation, tweaking the path following parameters. then they hooked the real thing up to some paths. and lol and behold.. science at work. beautiful flights though. if you have an error tolerance, you might as well use it :) like flying in a parking garage.

  15. xorpunk says:

    I like the real time plotting algo and IR the government uses. They also supplement it with GPS and satcom.

  16. ino says:

    just Wow!

  17. Very impressive work! Too bad the UTM-30LX laser range finder costs over $5000. Hopefully they’ll get cheaper for hobby robotics use.

  18. asdf says:

    Using that laser range finder is like a bicyclist setting a world speed record with a 100MPH tail wind, peddling down hill while drafting a lorry.

    Do it with $100 worth of sensors mounted on the craft and you’ll be doing something of value.

  19. Mike says:

    wow. they could use Maxim’s 3D laser technology and have a kick butt spatial experiencce.

  20. Stopthemadness says:

    Man turn that into a V.T.O.L. vehicle and add some mini guns to it and you have automated police response like in all the sci fi movies. Naw just kidding this thing is GREAT!!!!!! I love it wish I had the smarts to build something like this.

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