Video: Flying drones at high speeds autonomously

28 October 2021

The University of Zurich (ETH Zurich) and Intel are collaborating on a drone project to fly the aircraft at extremely fast speeds autonomously with onboard sensing and computation.

Quadrotor drones are very agile and can traverse complex environments at high speeds, but it takes human pilots to allow these capabilities. Autonomous operations to date have been limited to low speeds.

ETH Zurich and Intel have developed an end-to-end approach that allows the autonomous flight of quadrotor drones through complex natural and man-made environments at high speeds — purely with onboard sensing and computation.

The team said the key to accomplishing this is to map sensory observations to collision-free trajectories in receding-horizon fashion. This reduces the processing latency and increases robustness to noisy and incomplete perception.

Sensorimotor mapping is performed by a convolutional network that is trained exclusively in simulation. By simulating realistic sensor noise, a zero-shot transfer from simulation to real-world environments is possible even in environments that were not experienced in training such as dense forests, snow-covered terrain, derailed trains or collapsed buildings.

In the video, drones are seen racing through a complex environment in a forest traveling through small holes and narrow pathways among the trees. A narrator explains how the technology of sensing and computing gives the drone a view of its immediate environment and ability to adjust on the fly to obstacles at up to 40 kilometers an hour.

To view the full research, visit the ETH Zurich site.

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