Quadcopter piloted by a smartphone

Aug 19, 2013
The Quadcopter, built at TU Vienna. Credit: TU Vienna

The quadcopter, which was developed at TU Vienna, can negotiate its way through a room completely on its own. It does not need any human interference, and in contrast to other models, it is not assisted by any external computer. All the necessary computing power in on board; the image processing is done by a standard smartphone.

Quadcopters have become a popular toy for . The small aircraft, powered by four electrical engines, are perfect for testing advanced feedback control systems, which make them fly steadily and safely. But beyond that, quadcopters are also used to test how machines can be made to perceive their environment and act autonomously.

The Virtual-Reality-Team at Vienna University of Technology has been working with visual data for many years. "Proceeding towards robotics and mounting a camera onto a quadcopter was just the logical next step for us", says Hannes Kaufmann (Faculty of Informatics, TU Vienna). Usually, quadcopters are steered by humans or they send their data to a powerful earthbound computer, which then returns the necessary control signals. The Vienna quadcopter, however, does not need any external input.

A smartphone as the eyes and brains

The team decided not to buy an expensive commercial quadcopter-system, but instead to assemble a simple, cost-efficient quadcopter, using carefully selected components. The core element – and the most expensive part of the quadcopter – is a smartphone. Its camera provides the visual data and its processor acts as the control center. The quadcopter's intelligence, which allows it to navigate, was coded in a smartphone-app. In addition, a micro controller adjusts the rotor speed, so that the quadcopter flies as steadily as possible.

The quadcopter was designed to work indoors, even in small rooms. This is a major challenge; especially close to walls or corners, aerodynamics can be much more tricky than in open space. Apart from that, the quadcopter cannot make any use of GPS data, it has to rely entirely on visual data.

To test the quadcopters navigational capabilities, the team attached visual codes to the floor, similar to QR-codes. Hovering above these codes, the quadcopter recognizes them, obtains information and creates a map of its environment. Once it has created a virtual map of the codes on the floor, it can head for a specific known location or go on exploring areas it has not yet checked out.

"In the future, the quadcopter should also be able to do without these codes. Instead, we want it to use naturally occurring reference points, which can be obtained from the camera data and also from depth sensors such as the MS Kinect", says Annette Mossel, chief engineer of the quadcopter project. She developed the device together with her diploma students Christoph Kaltenriner and Michael Leichtfried.

Many ideas for applications

There are many possible applications for an autonomous quadcopter; firemen could send it into a burning building and have it transmit a 3D picture from inside before they enter the building themselves. Miniature quadcopters could guide people to the right place in large, labyrinthine buildings. Due to its low price, the -quadcopter could also be used in less wealthy regions of the world – for instance to monitor illegal forest clearance without having to use expensive helicopters.

The components of the quadcopter are less than a thousand Euros, says the team. However, the many months of work, which were spent designing the electronics and developing the computer programs, are not included in this calculation.

Explore further: Helicopter takes to the skies with the power of thought (w/ Video)

Related Stories

Flying robots get off the ground

Jun 17, 2013

Attaching a platform to a high-rise building to evacuate people in an emergency, or creating a landing stage for an aircraft on uneven terrain - these are just two areas in which flying robots could have ...

A father attempts DIY drone buddy to watch his kid

Dec 01, 2012

(Phys.org)—"Last winter, I fantasized about sitting at my computer while a camera-equipped drone followed him overhead." That is the revelation of a
 father who provides a detailed account of building ...

Review: Phantom quadcopter a fun consumer drone

Aug 14, 2013

Unmanned aircraft, also known as drones, are revolutionizing warfare. Now, some of that technology is coming home from the war, to amuse us and give us an aerial perspective on our surroundings.

Recommended for you

A smart prosthetic knee with in-vivo diagnoses

Apr 22, 2014

The task was to develop intelligent prosthetic joints that, via sensors, are capable of detecting early failure long before a patient suffers. EPFL researchers have taken up the challenge.

Old tires become material for new and improved roads

Apr 22, 2014

(Phys.org) —Americans generate nearly 300 million scrap tires every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Historically, these worn tires often end up in landfills or, when illegally ...

Students take clot-buster for a spin

Apr 21, 2014

(Phys.org) —In the hands of some Rice University senior engineering students, a fishing rod is more than what it seems. For them, it's a way to help destroy blood clots that threaten lives.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

grondilu
not rated yet Aug 20, 2013
Still a long way until this thing delivers pizzas...

More news stories

SK Hynix posts Q1 surge in net profit

South Korea's SK Hynix Inc said Thursday its first-quarter net profit surged nearly 350 percent from the previous year on a spike in sales of PC memory chips.

FCC to propose pay-for-priority Internet standards

The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose new open Internet rules that would allow content companies to pay for faster delivery over the so-called "last mile" connection to people's homes.

Brazil enacts Internet 'Bill of Rights'

Brazil's president signed into law on Wednesday a "Bill of Rights" for the digital age that aims to protect online privacy and promote the Internet as a public utility by barring telecommunications companies ...

Is nuclear power the only way to avoid geoengineering?

"I think one can argue that if we were to follow a strong nuclear energy pathway—as well as doing everything else that we can—then we can solve the climate problem without doing geoengineering." So says Tom Wigley, one ...

When things get glassy, molecules go fractal

Colorful church windows, beads on a necklace and many of our favorite plastics share something in common—they all belong to a state of matter known as glasses. School children learn the difference between ...

FDA proposes first regulations for e-cigarettes

The federal government wants to prohibit sales of electronic cigarettes to minors and require approval for new products and health warning labels under regulations being proposed by the Food and Drug Administration.