Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Vienna University of Technology (TU Vienna) researchers have developed a quadcopter – a helicopter propelled by four rotors – that can maneuver its way around a room completely on its own using only a smartphone.
The Virtual-Reality-Team at TU Vienna created a quadcopter that does not need a human interface to navigate through a room, and its on-board computer power is a standard smartphone. The quadcopter utilizes the smartphone’s camera to provide visual data and the device’s processor as a control center.
“Proceeding towards robotics and mounting a camera onto a quadcopter was just the logical next step for us,” said Hannes Kaufmann, Faculty of Informatics at TU Vienna, in a statement.
In order to test the quadcopter’s navigational capabilities, the team attached visual codes to the floor to help it create a virtual map of the environment. The quadcopter was able to pick up the codes, obtain information, navigate the environment and head for a specific known location or go to an unexplored region.
“In the future, the quadcopter should also be able to do without these codes. Instead, we want it to use naturally occurring reference points, which can be obtained from the camera data and also from depth sensors such as the MS Kinect”, says Annette Mossel, chief engineer of the quadcopter project.
The team envisions a variety of uses for their quadcopter. Today, companies like Parrot have built drones like this that can be piloted through a smartphone application, but these quadcopters work more like toys than tools. TU Vienna scientists believe their autonomous quadcopter could be used in emergency situations, such as firemen sending it into a burning building to transmit a 3D picture from inside before they enter.
If the team could develop miniature quadcopters then these devices could be used to help guide people to the right place within large buildings. Less-developed regions of the world could use the devices to help monitor illegal forest clearance or poaching activity without having to use expensive full-size helicopters.
The team said they were able to build the quadcopters for less than a thousand Euros, or about $1,300 in parts.
In June, researchers at the University of Minnesota reported that they created a quadcopter that can be controlled using brainwaves. The team used an electroencephalography (EEG) interface system so participants could control a flying four-blade robot accurately.