Watch this daredevil autonomous drone fly through narrow gaps at high speed

Every drone operator has at least had a momentary pang of fear at the prospect of their beloved UAV smashing itself to smithereens after failing to navigate sufficiently well through a space.

In a new project, researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland have tried to come up with a way to help counter this — by transforming regular drones into aerial daredevils capable of maneuvering themselves through tight gaps without having to slow down in the process.

To accomplish this death-defying feat, the drones use a forward-facing fisheye camera and some smart planning algorithms. Using these tools it is able to pull off its mission more than 80 percent of the time.

“The goal of this work is to traverse narrow gaps with a quadrotor using only onboard sensing and computation,” researcher Davide Falanga told Digital Trends. “More specifically, we use only a camera, an inertial measurement unit, and an onboard computer to run the perception, planning and control algorithms that let the vehicle execute this agile maneuver.”

As you can imagine, getting quadcopters to fly through narrow, inclined gaps is a very challenging task that — due to the high speeds involved — requires some fast calculations. Thankfully the drone is able to oblige, by coming up with and testing a massive 40,000 different trajectories per second to settle on the right one.

As impressive a showcase as this is, however, Falanga points out that the research — published in a new paper titled “Aggressive Quadrotor Flight through Narrow Gaps with Onboard Sensing and Computing” — is about more than just clever tricks.

“An example where these abilities could be applied in practice is a search and rescue scenario to navigate through collapsed buildings and localize victims,” he explained. “In such scenarios, conventional means of access to buildings may no longer be available, and flying through a narrow gap might in some circumstances be the only way to enter and exit a building.

“One can also imagine a post-disaster area, where it is necessary to provide victims with first-aid kits, but it is not possible to use doors or windows to enter the building. In such a case, a quadrotor can be used to safely provide what is necessary to the victims, taking advantage of possibly available small gaps.”

From here, Falanga said that there are various directions in which he would like to take the research. For example, right now the drone is aware of the size of the rectangle it is flying through and therefore needs to only calculate the right trajectory. This is information it probably wouldn’t have were it to be used in the wild.

Due to the potential search and rescue applications, the team also wants to do work with getting the drone to maneuver while carrying a payload, as well as flying in more complex environments — such as cluttered ones in which it must avoid obstacles like poles or trees.

Computing

Nose cam no more. How Dell avoided a notch and fixed the XPS 13’s biggest flaw

The new Dell XPS 13 moves the webcam from the below the screen to the top, finally vanquishing the one obstacle facing thin, sleek laptop displays. We have the exclusive story on how it was done.
Computing

How to share an external hard drive between Mac and Windows

Compatibility issues between Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS may have diminished sharply over the years, but that doesn't mean they've completely disappeared. Here's how to make an external drive work between both operating systems.
Gaming

You're never too broke to enjoy the best free-to-play games

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially-popular League of Legends.
Emerging Tech

Scientists debate mysterious flash of light in space, known as ‘The Cow’

On June 16, 2018 there was an unusual flash in the sky which puzzled astronomers around the world. NASA researchers have been collecting data on the event and have shared two competing theories for what could have caused it.
Emerging Tech

Why wait? Here are some CES 2019 gadgets you can buy right now

Companies come to CES to wow us with their cutting edge technology, but only a few products are slated to hit the market right away. Here is our list of the best CES 2019 tech you can buy right now.
Emerging Tech

Drones: New rules could soon allow flights over people and at night

With commercial operators in mind, the U.S. government is looking to loosen restrictions on drone flights with a set of proposals that would allow the machines greater freedom to fly over populated areas and also at night.
Emerging Tech

Yamaha’s new app lets you tune your motorcycle with a smartphone

It used to be that if you wanted to tune your motorcycle’s engine and tweak its performance, you needed specialized tools and even more specialized knowledge. Yamaha’s new Power Tuner app changes that.
Emerging Tech

Short film celebrates New Yorker’s amazing robot costumes

New York City resident Peter Kokis creates stunning robot costumes out of household trash. His designs are huge, heavy, and extremely intricate, and never fail to turn heads when he's out and about.
Emerging Tech

In a first for humankind, China is growing plants on the moon

Having recently landed a probe on the far side of the moon, China announced that it managed to grow the first plant on the moon, too. Here's why that matters for deep space travel.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and Kittyhawk.io could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs

Japan’s oddball Henn na Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff. The reason? Because these labor-saving machines turned out to be causing way more problems than they were solving.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.