Students in MIT’s Robust Robotics program have defied the laws of airplanes.
They have created a robotic airplane that can fly at high speeds, through obstacles, using only on-board sensors. And it’s doing all that without benefit of GPS. The students set out to create “autonomous plane navigation in confined spaces,” and that’s exactly what they did.
Using a laser rangefinder, the plane calculates 15 different variables while in flight — keeping it from crashing into things.
The MIT researchers completed a serious of flight tests around pillars in the parking garage under their labs. The plane worked like a charm — gliding and threading, almost blindly, around the structures.
The structure has significant real-world implications. It could be used for military purposes, replacing current U.S. drones that are remotely-piloted as opposed to autonomously-piloted. Other applications include land surveys and meteorological data collection.
The MIT group wants to now set its sights on building algorithms that will allow the plane to map out its flight environment on the go.
“There are definitely significant challenges to be solved,” says Adam Bry, one of the plane’s designers. “But I think that it’s certainly possible.”