This technological leap shows just how far drone and autonomous navigation and manoeuvrability tech has come in just a few years.


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A new Artificial Intelligence (AI) based navigation system has been unveiled that enables swarms of lightweight drones to fly together without crashing into one another or obstacles – even in challenging places such as forests. And, as you can see from the video it’s a spectacle to behold. It’s also slightly scary given the fact that China is also trying to develop drone swarms capable of travelling at hypersonic speed that can evade the latest and most sophisticated drone defence systems … but that’s all another story.


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While most drones can compute their location and find a path to follow using a multitude of sensors, which can be expensive and unwieldy, shrinking down a drone often involves getting rid of key components which then impact its ability to travel safely, so Xin Zhou at Zhejiang University in China and his colleagues have developed a completely new method that lets them reduce the drones size and hardware requirements while keeping its computing nous intact.


Watch the drones in action


In the experiment the palm sized 300 gram drones use off the shelf computer components powered by a 100 gram battery that can keep them aloft for up to 11 minutes, and they have a camera that feeds real time footage to their on board processing units.


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A localisation algorithm then creates a 3D image of the scene and regularly sets the drone targets to reach within that scene. It looks out for obstacles, and other drones, then readjusts the flight pattern in real time accordingly. Then it plans the most computationally efficient route through the area.

This algorithm accounts for the largest share of the drone’s processing power, but it doesn’t require the specialist processors that other drone navigation systems do, and that’s a breakthrough in itself. Perhaps most importantly though the algorithm doesn’t require GPS signals to locate itself, meaning it can be used in a broader range of places where such signals are low or even non-existent.


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“To achieve a quality map, built from a distributed collection of robots, of the detail demonstrated is an excellent piece of engineering,” says Jonathan Aitken at the University of Sheffield, UK. “To couple this with the additional successful navigation and avoidance of obstacles, and critically other members of the swarm, is an excellent achievement.”

Journal reference: Science Robotics, DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.abm5954

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Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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