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MIT Team Builds Camera-Free Plane That Can Navigate Using Sensors

 - Aug 14, 2012
References: & wired
MIT's Robust Robotics Group has developed an autonomous robotic plane that can navigate through tight spaces without the use of a camera or GPS. Instead, the plane uses onboard sensors and two algorithms to find its way around.

Recently, the autonomous robotic plane was tested at a parking garage at MIT's Stata Centre, where it successfully navigated tight corners and the garage's low ceilings. Designed by MIT aeronautics graduate Adam Bry, the autonomous robotic plane has short and wide wings (wingspan is 2 meters) that allow it to maneuver around tight spaces at lower speeds. The plane, unlike other models, is not fitted with a GPS system, a camera or motion detector -- rather, it uses two algorithms combined with its internal sensors to navigate and plot its own trajectory as it flies.

According to Wired, "No other autonomous vehicle based on similar technology has traversed such a tight indoor environment." It therefore represents a significant development in the field, as there have been many difficulties arising from using fixed-wing planes for autonomous navigation. Exact location navigation is essential for these planes since they cannot immediately hover or maneuver sideways, like helicopters.

Future plans for the autonomous robotic plane include developing algorithms that will enable the plane to create a 3D map of its surroundings as it flies, as well as testing it in real-world environments.