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MIT's Leading the Pack With This Cool New Autonomous Drone Tech


Any Star Wars fan knows that the chances of successfully navigating an asteroid field are approximately 3,720 to 1. The odds are probably significantly higher against today's autonomous drones, which fly quite a bit slower than sublight speed and without the mad skills of Han Solo. Researchers at MIT believe they have hit upon a solution--more than one, actually--to train drones to move quickly through a crowded, complex environment, though we're probably light years away from navigating through hostile star systems. One solution, dubbed "Flight Goggles," involves streaming a virtual reality environment to the drone as it flies through empty space. "The system is at the intersection of motion capture equipment, drone technology, and high-bandwidth communications," Sertac Karaman, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, told Singularity Hub.

Skydio Drone Sells 'True Autonomy' for Civilian Use Cases


In 2019, drone startups raised a record $1.2 billion in funding, according to Drone Industry Insights. It's a different story in 2020: Through mid-August, only about $240 million in disclosed capital has flowed into private companies, based on public data. It seems the investment side of the industry has hit a lull if not outright slump. Further evidence: Chinese drone manufacturer DJI, which owns more than 75% of the consumer drone market, has been shedding staff in a major reorganization for the last few months. That makes the $100 million mega-round picked up by Skydio in April all the more noteworthy.

Skydio's Camera Drone Finally Delivers on Autonomous Flying Promises

IEEE Spectrum Robotics

Every time we post about autonomous delivery drones, we have to point out that despite the promises implied by overproduced and optimistic videos, the drones are simply not capable of autonomous navigation in complex environments. Same goes for those camera drones that promise to follow you: the videos inevitably show them following skiers on wide open slopes, surfers on the wide open sea, or other people doing things very far away from inconvenient obstacles like trees. So far, we've only seen a tiny handful of drones capable of dynamically detecting and avoiding obstacles at a useful speed. Qualcomm and UPenn have been working on some, and MIT has that speedy tree-avoiding fixed-wing drone. A Silicon Valley company called Skydio, founded by a team of researchers from MIT and Google X's Project Wing, have posted a video that shows a drone following people jogging and biking while autonomously avoiding tree trunks and branches.

The Skydio R1 autonomous drone is an action sport enthusiast's dream come true


The purpose of a consumer drone remains nebulous these days. Depending on who you ask, you'll get a different answer. Drones are great for sophisticated aerial photography and video, but they're also adept at surveying empty lots of land and crowded real estate, or measuring agricultural yield and helping climate model the Arctic. Even as drones get more sophisticated, cheaper, and smaller, there isn't an easy answer beyond the fact that unmanned aerial vehicles are cool gadgets and fun to fly -- granted, where and when the Federal Aviation Administration deems it legal to do so. But what if a drone was smart enough to handle itself, in any and all situations?

The Skydio 2 Drone Lets You Fly Like a Pro


There will never be the perfect drone for everyone. There are too many different reasons for owning a drone. Some like to shoot sweeping cinematic masterpieces, and some want to follow fast-paced action. What makes a drone good at one thing often makes it not so great for another. That said, if you're after speed and maneuverability, the Skydio 2 is darn near perfect. It does have some shortcomings, which I'll get to below.