Researchers at the University of Maryland are adapting the techniques used by birds and bugs to teach drones how to fly through small holes at high speeds. The drone requires only a few sensing shots to define the opening and lets a larger drone fly through an irregularly shaped hole with no training.
Nitin J. Sanket, Chahat Deep Singh, Kanishka Ganguly, Cornelia Fermüller, and Yiannis Aloimonos created the project, called GapFlyt, to teach drones using only simple, insect-like eyes.
The technique they used, called optical flow, creates a 3D model using a very simple, monocular camera. By marking features in each subsequent picture, the drone can tell the shape and depth of holes based on what changed in each photo. Things closer to the drone move more than things further away, allowing the drone to see the foreground vs. the background.
As you can see in the video below, the researchers have created a very messy environment in which to test their system. The Bebop 2 drone with an NVIDIA Jetson TX2 GPU on board flits around the hole like a bee and then buzzes right through at 2 meters per second, a solid speed. Further, the researchers confused the environment by making the far wall similar to the closer wall, proving that the technique can work in novel and messy situations.
The team at the University of Maryland’s Perception and Robotics Group reported that the drone was 85 percent accurate as it flew through various openings. It’s not quite as fast as Luke skirting Beggar’s Canyon back on Tatooine, but it’s an impressive start.