Exploring autonomous aircraft
Exploring autonomous aircraft
5:13

Exploring autonomous aircraft

Science
-Drones, sure. Predator, reaper, huge 100-million-dollar unmanned aerial vehicles that take high altitude photos and rain down death from above, right? Well, yes. But that is not the end of the drone story. A new wave of smaller, low-cost, and hopefully civilian-friendly drones could soon be flying in the skies above. At 3D Robotics in Berkley, California, former Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson is flying high with this new trend. -So cameras are everywhere. They're in your pocket. They're on our street corners except for the sky. -Yes. -Why aren't cameras in the sky because it's too expensive, too dangerous? Drones are an opportunity to pick sensors which is what cameras are and put them in a place where they have a new perspective on our world and what we do with that data is up to us. -These kinds of drones started as DIY hobbyist projects. Anderson made his first UAV out of a Lego robot kit and toy plane with his kits a few years back. -We just did this around the kitchen table and then we put it on a plane. -Oh my gosh. -And this is now in the Lego Museum in Billund, Denmark, the world's first Lego unmanned air vehicle. -Today, Anderson's startup designs open-source drones for use in all sorts of fields like real estate, search and rescue, aerial photography, and even literally in the fields with agriculture. Do you feel like there will become a tipping point where people might start noticing drones wuzzing by their car windows or whatever it is-- -No. -Where we'll-- -I think at 5 years' time if you ask you know my kids what-- well they know what drones are, but yes. Our neighbor kids at what are drones and they say oh, those are the things that buzz over farm fields. -Yes. -They think it's this farm equipment because when you think about it, you know, the place where we don't have a problem with drones is away from people. -I confess to feeling a little bit terrified with the drones wuzzing overhead, but I have complete faith in my pilots and this one looks like it's quadcopter. -Yes. This one right here is a quadcopter meaning it has 4 rotors. -Okay. -So right now that closer quadcopter is flying itself. It's in a mode called loiter. It's about I'd say, you know, 20 feet, 30 feet off the ground. -Right. -Just kind of hovering there. It's compensating for the wind. -And so what's in there like there's-- -Inside-- -A gyroscope-- -There's a-- -There's a motor like-- -Yes. There's the 3DR auto pilot, the ArDuPilot is inside there and that has an IMU so that includes a gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, GPS, so all of those things. -3D Robotics sells complete UAVs that range from 500 to 700 dollars plus individual components and a stand-alone auto pilot module that runs about 200 bucks. The goal is to simplify and also crowdsource autonomous flying robots and then see what happens. -You got this touchscreen interface-- -Yes. -And it's really high level in the sense that if you wanna plan a mission, you know, you click here, point, point, point. You get all these waypoints. I'm gonna change this waypoint so a land waypoint and then we could if we wanted to now just click go and that plane would go fly over the hill. -Okay. -And would do that loop and would come back and would just land at our feet. What's great about our software so it's open source as you know, and because of that I think it fosters this, you know, people who wanna come out and just build cool applications. -Program-based autonomous flying that anyone can implement and I mean anyone. Imagine drones delivering pizza. Oh, nice. You guys are like the Blue Angels of drone pilots. You're killing it right now. Uh oh. Mayday. I should totally stop taking pictures and focus on this important story. These things are awesome. The possibilities for virtual reality are dizzying, literally. The 3D Robotics field ops team let me try out their test plane equipped with an Oculus Rift AR headset. All right. So this is my first-person virtual reality perspective flying an airplane. -That's it. Put it on. Hop in the Rift. -All right. So we got the Oculus Rift-- -Yes. -Controlling what? -So we have the Oculus Rift here which is a first person view virtual reality headset, and it displays video but it also does head tracking so that is actually controlling the camera over here on the front of the plane. -Okay. -And with that you can fly this plane far, far, far out of the field of view over the hills and you can see where it's going through the perspective of the plane. -So when I turn my head or these goggles, that camera is moving. Can I try that? -Yes. -Okay. Oh my goodness. All right. -Yes. -This is-- -So you can move your head to the right and to the left. -Weird. Of course all of this cool technology is right now kind of bordering on illegal. FAA guidelines state that drones can only fly up to 400 feet even though many can and do soar as high as a thousand feet. Add to that the privacy implications and concerns over domestic surveillance and you have a few red flags. But with the new legislation, like it or not, we might be seeing these 600-dollar drones flying in all kinds of unexpected places in the not-so-distant future.

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