Intelligent drones that ‘think’ will be airborne this year


Drone technologies have been improving at an impressive rate over the last few years, however they’re not exactly intelligent as they require somebody to be within eyesight (or have a remote camera feed) to prevent collisions. That could soon change however, with the latest research into artificial neural networks.

Drones with ‘brains’

We have had computers that can recognise and respond to objects in real-time for years. But the technology and power requirements mean it’s not really be suitable for carrying on a lightweight drone. Past research has been trying to get drones to sense and avoid obstacles focused on short-range tech like radar, but that is not always good enough for a fast-moving drone to avoid a power line, for example.

A company in the US called Bio Inspired Technologies has another approach, and that is to mimic a biological brain. Humans and animals are bad at traditional computing tasks such as addition, but they are great at processing lots of different inputs from many sense and responding to it.


Bio Inspired has built a kind of artificial brain from memristors, which are basically resistors that have a short term memory. They’re connected like neurons in a real brain, which gives the chip-sized system the ability to recognise and remember objects such as clouds, birds, radio towers and other drones, as well as using cameras to estimate how far away they are.

“Objects like other aircraft can be catalogued in a vague sense, meaning ‘I see an aircraft’, or in an exact sense: ‘I see another drone’,” Terry Gafron, CEO of Bio Inspired told New Scientist. “Not only could the system fly autonomously, but it could conceivably tell the difference between a deer and a wolf from the air”. That information can then be used by the drone to plot a new flight path.

There are lots of new uses for the technology, such as Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery service, and of course the military. Gafron says it can be used to fly around town looking for empty parking spaces and send you that information in real time.

Bio Inspired is working on a prototype drone equipped with the technology, which the company believes will be ready for its first flight later this year.

SOURCE: New Scientist


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