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­avs Learn to Fly Solo

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology Robust Robotics Group director Nicholas Roy.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Robust Robotics Group is trying to teach robots to think for themselves.

Credit: David Sella

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Robust Robotics Group want to teach unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other robots to think for themselves. They want UAVs "to become as intelligent as they need to be for the task at hand," says MIT professor and Robust Robotics Group director Nick Roy.

Researchers are trying to reduce the weight and power consumption of the machines, and some are experimenting with lightweight, low-cost cameras for navigation, rather than requiring LIDAR equipment. "I'm excited about how we might use passive cameras to help UAVs navigate on their own," Roy says.

The MIT researchers also want to bridge the gap between the fundamentally different ways in which people and robots think. The Robust Robotics Group is focused on helping robots understand how objects are distributed and how they can interact with them. "Once you have object detection or scene understanding, you can move to the next step: showing the robot how to use this understanding to make decisions," Roy says.

Teaching UAVs to recognize objects and process sensor data in order to make real-time decisions will help avoid collisions even in complex environments.

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