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Google And MIT Engineers Believe Their Drone Can Really Be Autonomous

As much as companies are working on making drones autonomous, the fact is few have made significant progress with sense-and-avoid technology. Most are still bumping into trees and other obstacles, while a few state-of-art ones who have come close to industry goals… well, they’re far from reaching us, casual consumers. That said, startup Skydio has managed to surprise us with their “digital bird” #actionmagic

Two researchers from MIT’s Robust Robotics Group and other engineers from Google X’s Project Wing have put the bases of Skydio, a Sillicon Valley company. There, the team built a – dare we say – really autonomous drone that’s capable of following joggers and bikers while avoiding trees and branches by themselves. In their first demo, you can see it flying smoothly without extra help, add founders: “Nothing was staged and it’s all fully autonomous. All of the navigation is done entirely based on a multi-camera array with all computation done on board on a state of the art mobile CPU.”

Smart idea, but we have to wonder – won’t that take its toll on power consumption? The more cameras they add, the more information needs to be processed in real time, increasing power consumption and thus, depleting fast the batteries. That translates into less time flying, more time looking at a smart UAV… and there’s no fun in that. Surely, there are solutions if you know where to look. Phantom 4 uses special software algorithms and a dedicated vision processor platform while other companies, like FotoNation, rely on IPU, a hybrid software-hardware unit. There’s no shortage of ideas, so it remains to be seen how they will be implemented in the near future.

Until drone manufacturers solve the power consumption problem, we might see a Skydio on the market. For now, they only have a prototype that did, however, convince investors to back up the company with $25 million, in January.

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