A team of computer scientists have built the smallest completely autonomous nano-drone that can control itself without the need for a human guidance.

Although computer vision has improved rapidly thanks to machine learning and AI, it remains difficult to deploy algorithms on devices like drones due to memory, bandwidth and power constraints.

But researchers from ETH Zurich, Switzerland and the University of Bologna, Italy have managed to build a hand-sized drone that can fly autonomously and consumes only about 94 milliWatts (0.094 W) of energy. Their efforts were published in a paper on arXiv earlier this month.

At the heart of it all is DroNet, a convolutional neural network that processes incoming images from a camera at 20 frames per second. It works out the steering angle, so that it can control the direction of the drone, and the probability of a collision, so that it know whether to keep going or stop. Training was conducted using thousands of images taken from bicycles and cars driving along different roads and streets.

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But it suffers from some of the same setbacks as the older model. Since it was trained with images from a single plane, the drone can only move horizontally and cannot fly up or down.

Autonomous drones are desirable because if we’re going to use drones to do things like deliver packages, it would be grand if they could avoid obstacles instead of flying on known-safe routes. Autonomy will also help drones to monitor environments, spy on people and develop swarm intelligence for military use.

Source: Boffins build smallest drone to fly itself with AI • The Register