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Robots flock like birds for aerial surveillance

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 - 02:18

Dec. 20 - Swiss scientists have developed a network of unmanned aerial vehicles designed to flock like birds in a coordinated effort to gather information from the sky. Jim Drury reports.

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Swiss scientists are reaching for the sky with this easy-to-program mini drone. Programmed via laptop before and during flight, the Swinglet CAM records data and takes high-resolution photographs. Its developers at start-up company Sensefly sell the drones individually for around 10,000 dollars. But researchers led by Professor Dario Floreano of the Swiss Federal Polytechnic of Lausanne, are taking the technology one stage further. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR DARIO FLOREANO, SWISS FEDERAL POLYTECHNIC OF LAUSANNE SAYING: "So what we have got here is a number of flying robots that can flock in the sky completely autonomously. They can cover a preset area. You simply decide which area they have to fly over and they would go, they would take off, cover this area, take photographs, they can monitor air pollution or other types of measurements you want to take and they make sure they stay in contact, they don't collide with each other and when the mission is over they come back to the position where you launched them." Up to 10 cyber birds have been programmed to migrate and land together in a set location, using Wifi to communicate. Computer simulations using algorithms convert the flock's photographs to create 3D images of the land below. Professor Floreano says improved sensors would allow a larger flock to stay together without crashing. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR DARIO FLOREANO, SWISS FEDERAL POLYTECHNIC OF LAUSANNE, SAYING: "These planes could be equipped with antennas and one of the purposes of developing the system indeed is to deploy these flying vehicles in the air so they can create an ad hoc network so people on the ground can talk over dedicated band so that they don't rely on GSM or traditional means of communication." Apart from cameras, the aircraft can also carry payloads like sensors to measure air pollution. But the technology is not without its critics. Some say it could be used to invade individuals' privacy. For the developers though, the flocking swinglets are designed to vastly improve mapping technology, while increasing our ability to monitor wild life and atmospheric sampling. And as the technology improves, they say the sky's the limit. Jim Drury, Reuters

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Robots flock like birds for aerial surveillance

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 - 02:18