Towards the back end of last year, a video was released by MIT of a drone performing all sorts of aeronautical acrobatics as it whizzed through a forest. The drone showed incredibly agility as it flew in and out of the trees at incredible speed.
The video showcased the kind of advances that had been made in drone technology. The latest evolution has been provided by the Californian company Skydio.
Their drone is capable of navigating for itself, just as with the MIT device, but also has the potential of following a human subject remotely, such as in the video at the foot of this post, when the drone follows people as they run and cycle.
The approach mirrors that taken by a Swiss team that I wrote about at the back end of last year. They prototyped a drone that can construct it’s own 3D map of an unfamiliar environment with minimal input from a human operator. It can then use this map to plot its own route around the environment.
“This is the first time we can show full mapping, relocalization—finding the drone on the map—and planning on board,” the researchers said.
The Skydio technology is equipped with a number of video cameras that provide it with sufficient understanding of its environment to navigate it safely.
The company has already raised $25 million despite there being no concrete date for the release of their first product.
A considerable challenge will be to provide the tools required to enable this advanced navigation in both a light and affordable package.
It’s believed that a safe and reliable means of auto-piloting is going to be crucial for drone technology to really take-off, but the complexity of achieving this remains a considerable challenge, especially when combined with the kind of navigation functionality highlighted in the Swiss project above.
The Skydio team, who came together whilst studying at MIT, believe they may be on the way towards that ultimate goal however.
As you can see in the video below, the Skydio device is certainly very powerful, and with significant funding behind them, it will be fascinating to see what kind of progress they make.