Thursday, March 28, 2019

A.I. Is Flying Drones (Very, Very Slowly)

A drone from the University of Zurich is an engineering and technical marvel. It also moves slower than someone taking a Sunday morning jog.

At the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Madrid last October, the autonomous drone, which navigates using artificial intelligence, raced through a complicated series of turns and gates, buzzing and moving like a determined and oversized bumblebee. It bobbed to duck under a bar that swooshed like a clock hand, yawed left, pitched forward and raced toward the finish line. The drone, small and covered in sensors, demolished the competition, blazing through the course twice as fast as its nearest competitor. Its top speed: 5.6 miles per hour.

A few weeks earlier, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a different drone, flown remotely by its pilot, Paul Nurkkala, shot through a gate at the top of a 131-foot-high tower, inverted into a roll and then dove toward the earth. Competitors trailed behind or crashed into pieces along the course, but this one swerved and corkscrewed through two twin arches, hit a straightaway and then blasted into the netting that served as the finish line for the Drone Racing League’s world championship. The winning drone, a league-standard Racer3, reached speeds over 90 miles per hour, but it needed a human to guide it. Mr. Nurkkala, known to fans as Nurk, wore a pair of goggles that beamed him a first-person view of his drone as he flew it.

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