Tuesday, August 25, 2009

iPhone App Flies Micro-UAV

Lasers, Math Help iPhone-Bot Fly Indoors
By David Axe

This summer, MIT’s Humans and Automation Lab designed an app to turn a standard iPhone into a quick-and-dirty controller for small, smart Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The idea, according to Prof. Missy Cummings, is to keep things so simple that almost anyone can become a robot wrangler, in an instant.

“Our philosophy is that humans have important jobs they need to do, and should not worry about low-level housekeeping, telling a UAV to go from point to point,” Cummings told Danger Room.

The kinds of users Cummings imagines — Marines and soldiers in urban combat, of course, but also everyday city dwellers looking to scope out the line at the local Starbucks — need bots that work indoors, where GPS signals can’t reach.

Her team’s solution: equip a small robot with LIDAR, fast-scanning lasers that can create quick, electronic models of any environment. Plus, giving the bot new computer algorithms for sending the models back to the iPhone, in the form of simple, graphical maps.

“The goal is that a small micro-UAV can enter a window or door and then map the world, both in 2D and 3D.”

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