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Drone Gets Its Smarts From a Smartphone

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A smartphone-based helicopter drone.

The SmartCopter, a Vienna University of Technology research project, uses a smartphone as its computer and can navigate on its own.

Credit: Vienna University of Technology

Smartphones could be the key to building low-cost, autonomous drones.

A group of researchers at the Vienna University of Technology (TUW) has built the SmartCopter, a test drone using a Samsung Galaxy S II Android smartphone, four motors, and an Arduino microcontroller at a cost of $412, excluding the phone. Rather than use the phone's built-in global positioning system, which does not work well indoors, for navigation, the team has the SmartCopter map its surroundings by detecting paper markers set up around an area.

The team developed an app to tell the drone to lift itself to a predetermined height, and then it starts looking for the markers. The next step will be to get the smartphone to track features of a room such as corners, which would eliminate the need to use markers for mapping.

The SmartCopter could be used to scout disaster scenes ahead of human responders.

"We wanted to keep the costs low and build our copter based on open hardware approaches," says TUW graduate student Annette Mossel.

From Technology Review
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