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Insect-Inspired Vision System Helps Drones Pass Through Small Gaps


The modified drone used in UMDs experiments senses using its front-facing camera and a downward-facing optical-flow sensor.

A system developed by the University of Maryland's Perception and Robotics Group allows a drone to fly through very small and completely unknown gaps using a single camera and onboard processing.

Credit: UMD

Researchers at the University of Maryland's (UMD) Perception and Robotics Group have developed a system that allows a drone to fly through very small and completely unknown gaps using a single camera and onboard processing.

The new system is based on a bee-inspired strategy that yields an 85% success rate.

Unlike other autonomous drone systems, the UMD system does not need to create a three-dimensional map of its environment, or even a model of the gap it is trying to fly through. The drone simply recovers a minimal amount of information that is sufficient to complete the task under consideration.

The system relies on an optical-flow technique in which it takes a picture, moves slightly, and then takes another picture. It identifies similar features in each picture, and due to the parallax phenomenon, the farther-away features behind the gap will appear to have moved less than the closer features around the gap.

From IEEE Spectrum
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