Autonomous AI-Driven Drones

AI and smart algorithms could allow drones to pilot themselves using visual landmarks to navigate. That’s the aim of researchers at the University of Missouri, who received a $3.3 million grant from the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC).

Currently, someone must manually fly a drone and be aware of obstacles around it, like trees, buildings, bridges, and signs. In other words, the drone must remain in the operator’s line of sight. However, allowing drones to navigate themselves would enable them to move around these obstacles and work in situations where a GPS signal is lost or interrupted.

“This typically occurs in the aftermath of natural disasters, occlusions in the built environment and terrain or from human-involved intervention,” said Kannappan Palaniappan, a Curators’ Distinguished Professor of electrical engineering and computer science and principal investigator on the project.

“Most drones operating today require GPS navigation to fly, so when they lose that signal, they aren’t able to find their way around and will typically just land wherever they are. Unlike ground-based GPS navigation apps, which can reroute you if you miss a turn, there’s currently no option for airborne drones to re-route [sic] in these situations.”

Palaniappan and the team are using a combination of visual sensors and algorithms to develop software that will allow drones to fly independently. The drones will perceive and interact with the environment around them while achieving specific objectives.

“We want to take the range of skills, attributes, contextual scene knowledge, mission planning and other capacities that drone pilots possess and incorporate them — along with weather conditions — into the drone’s software so it can make all of those decisions independently,” Palaniappan said.

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