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MIT Drone Autonomously Avoids Obstacles At 30 MPH ( 27

An anonymous reader writes: Traditional obstacle-avoidance software uses images from each camera, and search through the depth-field at multiple distances to determine if an object is in the drone's path. Such approaches are computationally intensive, meaning the drone can't fly faster than 6 miles per hour without specialized processors. PhD student at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, Andrew Barry realized that at the speeds his drone could travel, the world simply does not change much between frames. Because of that, he could get away with computing just a small subset of measurements — distances of 10 meters away. "As you fly, you push that 10-meter horizon forward, and, as long as your first 10 meters are clear, you can build a full map of the world around you," Barry says.
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MIT Drone Autonomously Avoids Obstacles At 30 MPH

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  • by Ultra64 ( 318705 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @04:44AM (#50853613)

    Itâ(TM)s difficult to tell from this article whether they will massacre mankind or merely enslave them. One thing is for certain: there is no stopping them. The drones will soon be here.

    And I for one welcome our new drone overlords. Iâ(TM)d like to remind them that as a trusted Slashdot personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground battery caves.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @04:59AM (#50853645)

    But it sorta sounds like the guy looked at how video compression works (b-frames and whatnot) and realized he had a loosely analogous situation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @05:17AM (#50853691)

    The video shows the detected obstacles, and the drone by far fails to detect all relevant obstacles. It looks like they rely on quite a bit of luck or they would crash into other obstacles while avoiding the obstacles they detect. Also, the world doesn't change much while you travel 10 meters, if you travel quickly, but your view of the world changes a lot when you turn. Each time they avoid an obstacle, the drone has not seen the nearest 10 meters in the new direction, and if an obstacle happened to be in the new path, it could very well already be too close to detect and avoid. The drone behaves very much like a panicky driver who veers into oncoming traffic to avoid hitting a squirrel.

    • I don't think that's luck, it's detecting obstacles in its projected flight path and completely ignoring the rest of the frame. What it doesn't seem to be doing is detecting objects that are lighter in infrared, like leaves.
  • Birds (Score:4, Informative)

    by robi5 ( 1261542 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @05:31AM (#50853723)

    Birds use a simpler approach: no 3d modeling; they just respond to relative speed of edges on their retina.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That's called "optical flow" and is one of the commonly tried methods for close range obstacle avoidance in drones.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's only simple if your processor is made of neurons, otherwise it's computationally intensive, meaning the drone can't fly faster than 6 miles per hour without specialized processors.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Already do that don't they? At least I do.. I tend to not worry too much about the first 10 meters in front of me because if something happens in that space I doubt I'd be able to avoid it!

    Obviously the range at which I don't pay much attention changes with speed and location but the basic principle is sound.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @09:55AM (#50854861) Journal
    They are not used to having objects move at the speeds the airplanes move. Birds use parallax to estimate depth. Most terrestrial animals use stereoscoping vision for depth information. That is why prey animals have two eyes facing forward. But birds have 360 degree field of vision, despite needing very serious depth information. They just use parallax. Subtract next from from previous frame, all the objects in infinity are filtered out. The change tells them how near/far an object is. That is why most birds constantly cock their heads and whip their head back and forth while sitting on branches to gain depth perception.

    But if they approach an airplane at an angle so that the plane is always at the same bearing, it gets filtered out, the bird thinks the plane is at inifinity. Only when it is too near, the increased in perceived size of the object will create parallax. But by that time it is too late because the planes move too fast.

  • So it's only noticing if something is in the way when it gets within 10 meters?

    30 mph = ~48 kph = ~13 mps. So it has less than a second to respond to whatever it does see. What's the turning radius for this thing when traveling at 30 mph? Or the stopping distance?

    It's amusing that the thought line is "it's traveling so slow that i can do the processing to allow it to travel faster than many people would be comfortable with".

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev