Autonomous Robotic Plane Takes FlightCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: August 13, 2012 09:50AM
Researchers like having competitions between their robots. These could be software robots, self-driving cars, and autonomous helicopters, but the game is always to make the most capable one. Now researchers at MIT have gone a step further by creating an autonomous robotic plane, which presents many challenges the others do not have.
Both helicopters and planes have to deal with movement in a 3D space but planes cannot make arbitrary movements. Helicopters can stop and move to the side if they detect an obstacle ahead, but if a plane just slows down too much, it will stall and crash, so the robotics have to be very accurate and fast to work. To help with this, the researchers developed algorithms to determine the plane's state within an environment very quickly. This, combined with a laser rangefinder and a premade map, allowed the two meter wide plane to navigate a path in a parking garage that at times was only two and a half meters tall.
By having the premade map of the environment, the plane does have an advantage over the helicopters which have to generate one as they fly, but given that this is the first autonomous robotic plane, what it has achieved is still quite an accomplishment. The researchers are working to give the plane the ability to generate its own map, but then they decided to work on making this plane because it would be a challenge.