...As Truly Autonomous Helicopter Flies In Oz

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Meanwhile, down under, an Australian company says it has created the first true flying robot helicopter, one that doesn't need any help from the ground or space to find its way around. The five-foot-long Mantis uses a robot brain linked to sensors that enable it to "see" its surroundings and fly without a remote-control pilot and without reference to GPS for navigation. "This is the first UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) to use computerized vision with all its equipment on board," Dr. Peter Corke, of CSIRO Complex System Integration, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Corke said GPS can be distorted or reflected in urban areas so Mantis sees and thinks for itself. And the hardware is very, very light. "The major task in developing Mantis was to produce an inertial sensing system and a computer vision system to control and provide flight stability and to guide the aircraft," Corke said. Two cameras provide Mantis' eyes, and software determines where objects are and how fast the aircraft is moving relative to those objects. According to CSIRO, all this wizardry comes in a package weighing less than three ounces, so it can be used on UAVs much smaller than those currently deployed. He envisions fleets of Mantis-like UAVs doing patrol and surveillance work and flying into places too hazardous to risk human pilots.