Quadcopters and other drone-type devices are being put to good use by researchers, conservationists, game wardens, and wildlife biologists, as their small size and ability to maneuver in hard-to-reach places make them a great choice for remote observation or monitoring.
But some of the next generation of unmanned aerial vehicles could be completely autonomous, and capable of navigating through the environment without a human operating the remote control for them, as demonstrated by this project by a team at the Vienna University of Technology.
The team's quadcopter, which is said to have been built with components costing less than one thousand euros, uses the smartphone's camera to provide visual input to the processor. A custom smartphone app provides the code for navigation and control. and rotor speed is regulated by a micro-controller for optimum stability while flying.
The model created for this project relies solely on visual data for navigation, not GPS, and is built specifically for indoor environments and small spaces, where it has been shown to be able to create a virtual map of its environment and then navigate on its own.
"To test the quadcopters navigational capabilities, the team attached visual codes to the floor, similar to QR-codes. Hovering above these codes, the quadcopter recognizes them, obtains information and creates a map of its environment. Once it has created a virtual map of the codes on the floor, it can head for a specific known location or go on exploring areas it has not yet checked out." - TU Vienna
While this indoor version of the autonomous quadcopter may be useful for first responders or disaster response, to survey the inside of a building before entering it, it's quite possible that a variation of this design could be built for use out in the environment, as a monitoring or patrolling device for wildlife or forests.