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Future Delivery Drones Start Learning How to Fly on Their Own

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A drone over a metropolitan area.

Researchers at Boston University are working to help drones teach themselves how to fly.

Credit: Flavio Veloso/Getty Images

Boston University (BU) researchers are developing ways to enable drones to learn how to fly on their own.

Several companies envision using carrier drones to deliver purchases, and they also could be used to fight fires or manage crops. However, drones are not operating as autonomously as people think they are, says BU gradudate student Kevin Leahy. "The more complicated, the more moving parts, the more vehicles you have, the harder it gets," he notes.

Most drone pilots in the U.S. currently must keep their vehicles under their control and within their line of sight. However, autonomy will be key to the success of efforts to use drones for product delivery, says Lawrence Brinker, executive director of the NUAIR Alliance.

Drones will need to know not only how to get where they are going, but also to navigate around obstacles on the ground and each other in the air. Leahy and colleagues are developing ways to provide drones with more autonomy.

For example, in one experiment a pair of drones was tasked with surveilling a particular square of the room using an algorithm that controlled where they flew as they completed the task. The algorithm tagged them out in turn so they could take a break at charging stations.

From New Scientist
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