Drones are agile objects, but they are not known for their quick reactions. If you want to drop one of the sky, a well-thrown ball or even a spear should suffice. It is not for long, researchers at the University of Zurich have created a drone able to autonomously avoid objects that are projected, even at short distance.
You can see the quadcopter showing these skills in the video above (although no one has tested it with a key). Well, some of these throws are pretty easy, but the drone always reacts completely autonomously. And although we've seen quadricopters that can maneuver around static objects such as trees, it's much harder to avoid moving objects in the air.
"We really wanted to push the limits and see what these robots are capable of," said Davide Falanga, a researcher at the University of Zurich, The edge.
Giving drones an auto dodge feature would be convenient for many use cases. This would make drones safer, allowing them to dodge flying birds or nearby humans. This would also be useful for military and law enforcement deployments. For example, if a drone is watching an event, it is very useful to be able to avoid thrown objects.
According to Falanga, the dodging of dynamic objects is beyond the knowledge of the most commercial drones on the market. He claims that Skydio's R1 drone probably has the best stand-alone features, but that "it's always difficult to avoid moving objects."
As Falanga and his colleagues, Suseong Kim and Davide Scaramuzza, shell out in their research paper, there are many reasons for this limitation. Technical factors, including the reactivity of drone engines and the latency of their sensors, all create bottlenecks. What is easy for a human (well, most of the time) is incredibly delicate for electronics.
However, the drone at the University of Zurich has a considerable advantage over commercial quadcopters: an advanced sensor called an event camera. While traditional cameras record a defined number of frames per second and transmit them to the software for processing, event cameras send data only when the pixels in its field of view change in intensity. . This means that they use less data and have lower latency. In other words: faster response time.
Event cameras are still rare, however. They cost thousands of dollars and are usually not seen outside a research lab. According to Falanga, they will eventually reach the general public, but it will take years of development to bring them back to a reasonable cost. "Absolutely, I think that in the long run, we will see more and more uses of these cameras," he says.
Until then, drones will remain vulnerable for anyone with a good eye and a powerful arm.