If you’re [Nick Rehm], you want a drone that can plan its own routes even at low altitudes with unplanned obstacles blocking its way. (Video, embedded below.) And or course, you build it from scratch.
Why? Getting a drone that can fly a path and even return home when the battery is low, signal is lost, or on command, is simple enough. Just go to your favorite retailer, search “gps drone” and you can get away for a shockingly low dollar amount. This is possible because GPS receivers have become cheap, small, light, and power efficient. While all of these inexpensive drones can fly a predetermined path, they usually do so by flying over any obstacles rather than around.
[Nick Rehm] has envisioned a quadcopter that can do all of the things a GPS-enabled drone can do, without the use of a GPS receiver. [Nick] makes this possible by using algorithms similar to those used by Google Maps, with data coming from a typical IMU, a camera for Computer Vision, LIDAR for altitude, and an Intel RealSense camera for detection of position and movement. A Raspberry Pi 4 running Robot Operating System runs the autonomous show, and a Teensy takes care of flight control duties.
What we really enjoy about [Nick]’s video is his clear presentation of complex technologies, and a great sense of humor about a project that has consumed untold amounts of time, patience, and duct tape.
We can’t help but wonder if DARPA will allow [Nick] to fly his drone in the Subterranean Challenge such as the one hosted in an unfinished nuclear power plant in 2020.