September 16, 2008 / 3:07 AM / 11 years ago

Self-flying helicopter gets off ground

Doctoral students put on an air-show of robotic helicopters on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, California September 15, 2008. The airshow, which involves helicopters that have taught themselves to fly by watching other helicopters, is a demonstration of an "apprenticeship learning algorithm" developed by computer science professor Andrew Ng and other students at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, where robots learn by observing an expert, rather than by having software engineers attempt to write instructions from scratch. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

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

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