Sunday, March 18, 2012

System Allows Drones to Fly Without GPS

GPS drone (UAS) with GoPro camera

GPS drone (UAS) with GoPro camera; Creative Commons image courtesy Don McCullough

Drones are absolutely taking off in popularity and public appeal (pardon the pun). In the wake of the FAA finally releasing rules and regulations for drone use, it seems like the whole world has suddenly become drone-crazy. But, with companies like Amazon promising that drone deliveries are just around the corner, researchers are looking fore newer and better ways for drones to get around in cities where GPS isn’t always super reliable.

I recently discovered an article by Gizmag about a new navigation system created by researchers with Mexico’s National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and electronics (INAOE). Part of the RAFAGA (Robust Autonomous Flight of unmanned aerial vehicles in GPS-denied outdoor areas) Project, this system uses images to create flight paths instead of relying in GPS.

Basically, the way it works is the system will be pre-loaded with a Google Maps-like satellite image of an area. The users will then direct the drone to fly along a flight path using waypoints placed on this satellite image. Once in the air, the drone will use a camera compare the buildings and fround features around it with the satellite images in order to determine where it is on a map. Sound familiar? It’s basically using visual observation to compare a map with the surroundign landscape–basically the same thing you do when trying to figure out where you are on a map.

According to Gizmag, the technology is reportedly more reliable than GPS and the technology is much simpler and less expensive, as it’s mostly just a camera and the drone’s own computing power. Sounds pretty clever to me, and will solve some of the issues that delivery drones would inevitably have in navigating through tall urban jungles where GPS signals can easily be bounced about and lost. Who knows, maybe this will be the first step to a new kind of GPS.


  1. This is really cool! I bet google will be a huge part of this in the future

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