Smart as a bird: Flying robot avoids obstacles

Nov 01, 2012 by Bill Steele
A flying robot avoids a tree on the Arts Quad. Credit: Saxena lab

(Phys.org)—Cornell researchers have created an autonomous flying robot that is as smart as a bird when it comes to maneuvering around obstacles.

Able to guide itself through forests, tunnels or damaged buildings, the machine could have tremendous value in search-and-. Small flying machines are already common, and GPS technology provides guidance. Now, Ashutosh Saxena, assistant professor of computer science, and his team are tackling the hard part: how to keep the vehicle from slamming into walls and tree branches. Human controllers can't always react swiftly enough, and may not reach everywhere the robot goes.

The is a quadrotor, a commercially available flying machine about the size of a card table with four helicopter rotors. Saxena and his team have already programmed quadrotors to navigate hallways and stairwells. But in the wild, current methods aren't accurate enough at large distances to plan a route around obstacles. Saxena is building on methods he previously developed to turn a flat image into a 3-D model of the environment using such cues as converging straight lines, the apparent size of familiar objects and what objects are in front of or behind each other—the same cues humans unconsciously use to supplement their stereoscopic vision.

Graduate students Ian Lenz and Mevlana Gemici trained the robot with 3-D pictures of such obstacles as tree branches, poles, fences and buildings; the robot's computer learns the characteristics all the images have in common, such as color, shape, texture and context—a branch, for example, is attached to a tree. The resulting set of rules for deciding what is an obstacle is burned into a chip before the robot flies. In flight the robot breaks the current 3-D image of its environment into small chunks based on obvious boundaries, decides which ones are obstacles and computes a path through them as close as possible to the route it has been told to follow, constantly making adjustments as the view changes. It was tested in 53 autonomous flights in obstacle-rich environments—including Cornell's Arts Quad—succeeding in 51 cases, failing twice because of winds. The results were presented at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Portugal Oct. 7-12.

Saxena plans to improve the 's ability to respond to environment variations such as winds, and enable it to detect and avoid moving objects, like real birds; for testing purposes, he suggests having people throw tennis balls at the flying vehicle.

Explore further: In Japan, robot dogs are for life - and death

Related Stories

Robots learn to handle objects, understand places

Sep 02, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Infants spend their first few months learning to find their way around and manipulating objects, and they are very flexible about it: Cups can come in different shapes and sizes, but they ...

'Hallucinating' robots arrange objects for human use

Jun 18, 2012

(Phys.org) -- If you hire a robot to help you move into your new apartment, you won't have to send out for pizza. But you will have to give the robot a system for figuring out where things go. The best approach, ...

Robots learn to pick up oddly shaped objects

May 09, 2012

(Phys.org) -- When Cornell engineers developed a new type of robot hand that could pick up oddly shaped objects it presented a challenge: It was easy for a human operator to choose the best place to take h ...

Bird-like robot perches on a human hand (w/ Video)

May 03, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Among the many challenges of designing flying robots is getting them to land gracefully. By taking a cue from birds, a team of engineers has developed a flapping-wing flying robot that can land ...

Recommended for you

Pebble smartwatch nears Kickstarter record

20 minutes ago

The latest version of the Pebble smartwatch neared a record funding amount on Kickstarter on Friday amid growing interest in wearable tech and ahead of the highly anticipated Apple Watch launch.

Ericsson sues Apple over patent violations

2 hours ago

Swedish telecoms group Ericsson announced Friday a lawsuit against Apple claiming that the US tech giant continued to use its technology in iPhones and other wireless devices after refusing to renew a licencing ...

Putting net neutrality in context

2 hours ago

After much litigation, public demonstration and deliberation, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3 to 2 to adopt open internet rules. While the substantive details of the decision are not yet known, the rules ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Prok
not rated yet Nov 06, 2012
no video? :(

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.