Sept. 19 - A group of Austrian students has designed a quadcopter which flies autonomously using only the computing power of a smartphone. The reasearchers say the drone could one day be used for search and rescue scenarios or fighting fires without putting humans in harm's way. Jim Drury reports.
UPSOT: QUADCOPTER It's a quadcopter with a difference....the first to fly autonomously using only the computing power of a smartphone. Developed by Vienna University of Technology students, including Annette Mossel, the aircraft relies on visual markers to navigate and doesn't need remote control or external computers. SOUNDBITE (English) RESEARCH ASSISTANT AT VIENNA UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY, ANNETTE MOSSEL, SAYING: "We developed from scratch the whole software for the autonomous flight. And we used a framework to be able to detect the markers, the pattern on the ground......The exploration, the navigation, and the mapping, as well as the localisation, is all done on the smart phone." The markers are square barcodes printed on a plastic mat. As the quadcopter hovers above the markers, the phone's camera interprets and records the information they provide, creating a virtual screen map of its environment, says senior researcher Hannes Kaufmann. SOUNDBITE (English) SENIOR RESEARCHER AT VIENNA UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY, HANNES KAUFMANN, SAYING: "So what the quadcopter is doing, is that it flies over a certain area, and it learns that area and the markers that you can see." The researchers say their four-rotor helicopter is unique in its ability to map its surroundings while flying autonomously And Kaufmann says it could have multiple future applications. SOUNDBITE (English) SENIOR RESEARCHER AT VIENNA UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY, HANNES KAUFMANN, SAYING: "One possible practical application would be in the case of a fire-fighting scenario, for instance. The group leader can send in one quadcopter or multiple quadcopters, and they fly through the building, scan the building, and build a 3D map of this building. And automatically the map and the structure of the building is known outside." The team's next task is to install a 3D camera, allowing the quadcopter to create three-dimensional virtual maps of indoor spaces....all by itself.