Autonomous Drones Can Now Come at You FASTER Thanks to MIT

The thing with autonomous drones – as with autonomous anything, for that matter – is that they need an accurate map to work properly. Take that away, and they will either spend enormous amounts of time plotting their course over unfamiliar terrain, or simply crash into some obstacle.
MIT teaching drones to map terrain on the fly 1 photo
Photo: MIT
That sluggishness may be fun when playing with a drone in the backyard or over the runways of Gatwick, but it’s not so useful when someone really needs to be located and saved, for instance. Enter MIT.

Their solution is ingeniously called FASTER, and will supposedly allow drones to map unfamiliar areas while flying at higher than usual speeds, with no regard for their safety. At first, at least.

FASTER is a trajectory-planning model used to estimate the quickest possible path from a starting point to a target, without taking into account obstacles. As the drone begins to fly, the model starts backing-up hassle-free pathways on which the drone can fall back on when an insurmountable happens to pop up in its way.

In essence, the drone flies, records what it sees, and when faced with an immovable object, can decide to back up and try an alternative route. And it does this really, really fast (for a drone, that is).

The creators of the model, Jonathan How, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Richard Cockburn Maclaurin, and Brett Lopez, a postdoc at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, say the tests they’ve conducted went very well.

Using simulated forests, the team found a virtual drone using FASTER could navigate between makeshift trees “two times quicker than traditional models.” In a real-life scenario, drones were capable of dodging cardboard boxes they’d never seen before at speeds of 7.8 meters per second (28 kph, 17 mph).

Testing of the FASTER model will continue with the backing of the U.S. Department of Defense. The team plans to build larger drones that can support the project.

More details on what FASTER is all about can be found at this link.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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