Self-flying helicopter gets off ground

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STANFORD, California (Reuters) - A four-foot-long helicopter flew itself over the Stanford University campus on Monday in a test of artificial intelligence that researchers say could be used to scout wildfires or on military missions.

The autonomous helicopter performed flips, rolls, pirouettes, stall-turns, knife-edges, and an inverted hover over a field.

The helicopter is equipped with an artificial intelligence system developed by computer scientists at Stanford and taught itself to fly by watching the aerobatics of a radio-controlled helicopter flown by a human.

“These helicopters can fly maneuvers at the edge of what a helicopter is capable of,” said Adam Coates, a PhD student who worked on the project.

The helicopters, which communicate with a ground-based computer that guides it, are still being developed.

PhD student Pieter Abbeel said the research group has been contacted by a number of companies interested in surveillance and mapping applications, while scientists saw the mini-helicopters investigating wildfires and looking for land mines.

Each helicopter costs approximately $4,000 and is outfitted with an accelerometer, gyroscope and a magnetometer to determine its orientation and acceleration, and a GPS or two ground-based cameras to determine its location.

Reporting by Clare Baldwin, editing by Peter Henderson