back to article Boffins build smallest drone to fly itself with AI

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 …

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Wonder if it could run powered by a small solar panel or if the weight of even that would be too much?

Good work shrinking everything into it though, for sure.

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Not a chance.

'Non-fossil' Renewable power sources are very poor. They deliver low amounts of power, which is easily disrupted. No engineer in their senses would use them - unless it was to obtain subsidies from a government bemused by Greens.

I suspect that you have been seduced by the never-ending stream of propaganda suggesting that full grid power from Renewables is 'just round the corner' into thinking that these systems are useful...

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I'm not sure what drugs you're on Mr Geezer but do please add a chill pill to your daily regimen.

0.094W is a damn low requirement and doesn't need an on-board petrol engine to generate.

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0.094W is probably the power requirement for the electronics when it's not working too hard. I doubt if it's that low for powered flight.

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Anonymous Coward

"0.094W is a damn low requirement"

Yes but the Crazyflie 2.0 quadcopter it is on has a 240mAh battery, takes 40 minutes to charge and it can then fly for 7 minutes. The maximum payload is 15g leaving little margin for it to be solar powered unless you want a duty cycle of about one flight per year.

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FAIL

Yes but the Crazyflie 2.0 quadcopter it is on has a 240mAh battery, takes 40 minutes to charge and it can then fly for 7 minutes.

That comes out as a total current draw of around 2A, and a power consumption of some 7W (taking the battery going from 100% to near empty in those 7 minutes).

The maximum payload is 15g leaving little margin for it to be solar powered unless you want a duty cycle of about one flight per year.

Poking around on AliExpress to find a panel weighing less than 15g, several suitable candidates come up. With a power output of 0.25 .. 0.3W they can recharge the battery in a day or two, so that's 150 flights per year.

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Anonymous Coward

re: Dodgy Geezer

Can we all have some of what you are smoking please? It is really powerful stuff.

Some of us are living on renewables already.

You can drive an Electric Car and charge it from the Sun at home (as I do) or use a Charge point operated by one of the several companies who supply 100% renewable Electricity.

If you still doubt that it can be done why not take up this challenge and perhaps (????) you might get converted.

Go along to that mecca for petrol heads, Silverstone in early June (9th and 10th to be exact) and attend the 'Fully Charged Live' event. You can even get to drive an EV and talk to people who know which direction the future must go or we are doomed.

If not, please carry on hanging on every word that Donald "Build that wall" Trump says. He is an evolutionary dead end like Neanderthal Man was.

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FAIL

"Non-fossil' Renewable power sources are very poor."

Last time I looked, HydroElectric dams produce a shit load of power and are pretty darned reliable.

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> Non-fossil' Renewable power sources are very poor. They deliver low amounts of power, which is easily disrupted. No engineer in their senses would use them -

Engineers use renewables all the time. Regarding solar power, at one end we have low power untethered devices - calculators and wristwatches - and at the other we have roof-mounted solar panels and grid storage. Even fossil fuels are subject to the same demand spikes that requires grids to be overbuilt - and that grid storage has long been used to mitigate (e.g pumped hydroelectric storage).

If an engineer was tasked with designing, for example, a remote sensor, solar would be on his shortlist

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Back of the fag packet maths says this would have a 5.7 hour flight time with a 150mA battery if 0.094W is the total load of the drone.. that would be the biggest breakthrough - never mind the AI!

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The power requirements could be fixed by making the whole thing a bit bigger so it can carry a decent sized battery. My calculations say it would need to be about... normal drone sized.

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Anonymous Coward

"Last time I looked, HydroElectric dams produce a shit load of power and are pretty darned reliable."

Correct, I live in a country (Norway) that is 100% renewable energy and exports excess every year. with now close to 50% of new car purchases now electric also.

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Anonymous Coward

"Last time I looked, HydroElectric dams produce a shit load of power"

For some places like Norway yes, but for the UK no. As I post this the UK is currently generating 212Mw of hydro electric power which is 0.6% of our electrical consumption. The UK is not geographically well positioned from a renewable energy perspective.

As for reliability of hydroelectric in general, there have been problems:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hydroelectric_power_station_failures

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Re: re: Dodgy Geezer

"Some of us are living on renewables already"

No. You just think you are. Cast your mind back a few days to the 12th May. It wasn't windy with the total wind power for the UK generating less than 200Mw for nearly 24 hours. Hydro was producing a similar amount. Solar at this time of year is quite good peaking at about 5Gw in the middle of the day but obviously going to zero by the evening. If you include biomass (burning wood) as renewable (some folks do and some don't) then that's another 2Gw. Demand was 20-30Gw. 9Gw came from nuclear (including 2 from France) the rest was almost all generated from gas.

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"..'Non-fossil' Renewable power sources are very poor. They deliver low amounts of power, which is easily disrupted. No engineer in their senses would use them - unless it was to obtain subsidies from a government bemused by Greens..."

o'rly?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-40198567

I also bought into solar power for my home. It made a big difference to our electricity bill due to the wife being at home and doing things like washing and ironing etc with plenty of sunlight to help power things.

You really should try and educate yourself a bit more before you spout such crud.

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Re: re: Dodgy Geezer

"...generating less than 200Mw for nearly 24 hours.."

What is a Mw? Presumably you mean a MW, given the SI unit for Watts is, erm W not w

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Trollface

The UK is not geographically well positioned from a renewable energy perspective.

Have you tried to generate power from rain?

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Re: re: Dodgy Geezer

No. You just think you are.

That's assuming the AC who made the statement "Some of us are living on renewables already" to be living in the UK.

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Re: The UK is not geographically well positioned from a renewable energy perspective.

"...Have you tried to generate power from rain?..."

Manchester would generate more energy than the sun! :)

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Re: re: Dodgy Geezer

Wellll-

If you are on a "renewable energy tariff" your supplier commits to buying sufficient renewable power on average to cover their total customer load on average. Doesn't mean that at a given instant *your* supply is totally sourced from renewables, but averaged over a period it will be.

Sometimes the renewable supply is below sold renewable demand, so non-renewable kicks in (those CCGT units start and stop quickly). Sometimes is exceeds demand, and the surplus can be sold to the general market.

Just because we cannot *completely* change to renewable energy in one step is not an excuse for not moving towards that target. Same with electric cars: sure, right now they are not suitable for all purposes, but from personal experience they cover *most* of the requirements already.

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Devil

7 minutes' flight? That's still not bad, though battery tech now becomes the limiter, and not the electronics or programming.

the solar panel can be in the docking station. then you can make it as big as you want.

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Stop

Re: re: Dodgy Geezer

I'd rather have NUCLEAR than solar. MORE POWER!

And fusion energy (potentially) allows us to have virtually unlimited fuel, assuming you can make it fuse with 1H and not require 2H or 3H or something else.

The 1H+1H->2H fusion reaction has very little mass defect, but doesn't really consume any energy, so it should be possible to have 'breeder' fusion along with 2H+2H->4He fusion for power. Until then, we can use a centrifuge to separate out the heavy water and still be cost effective (and have LOTS of fuel available).

In any case, i just want the cost of energy to be lower, so if solar is actually cheaper [not because of gummint taxes and regulations and subsidies, either] then use it. Otherwise, burn dinosaurs and ancient plants. And nuclear fission, too. Whatever costs the least, doesn't force rolling blackouts or 'conservation' or any other inconvenience, etc..

After all, why should MODERN people in 1st world countries live like they're in 3rd world countries? if you run out, MAKE MORE (note: this does NOT mean 'pollute everything' so you anti-tech fascists can't say it now, bleah). And tell the enviro-wackies to GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY and stop blocking construction projects.

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Unhappy

"HydroElectric dams produce a shit load of power and are pretty darned reliable."

And are cost effective. /me likes hydro power.

But good luck getting one built, these days. Enviro-wackos will red-tape your project into non-existence.

Wait until the enviro-wackos start objecting about solar farms and windmills. No, wait...

https://www.audubon.org/news/will-wind-turbines-ever-be-safe-birds

[the only thing that will make enviro-wackos happy is if we ALL STOP using electricity and fossil fuels, period, and live like LUDDITES and/or Amish - except for them - because they're "the elite" and are "special" and it's OK when THEY "do whatever", it's just the REST of us that have to be inconvenienced, stopped, controlled, whatever]

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Death by Amazon

Considering the following:-

"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.

But experts have raised concerns about baking AI into drones, on grounds that they'll become better at delivering lethal payloads."

Maybe Amazon could add a new service when it has finally got drone delivery to work.

I think if delivery drones do become a thing, there will (eventually) be strong and complicated legislation to control them as they present so much scope for naughtiness.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Death by Amazon

well, once amazon deploy death-raining drones, they can immediately sell certified, selling death-raining anti-drone umbrellas. Those, in turn, will require death-raining anti-drone umbrella-proof-penetrative death-raining drones, which, obviously, will require a new-gen death-raining anti-drone umbrella-deployed anti-death-raining drone nano-missiles (or, simply, anti-drone nano-drones). This is, after all, how human species takes steps in their never-ending quest for self-betterment, aka progress.

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Re: Death by Amazon

as they present so much scope for naughtiness.

Yep, on the former council estate near me, they delight in shooting (not with guns I hasten to add) the things down. I predict that 'Drone Shooting' may well replace 'Clay Pigeon (Trap to you Americans)' in the Olympics.

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Trollface

Re: Death by Amazon

Translation: You want SkyNet?, because that how you get SkyNet!

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Trollface

Limited lethal force only

Just enough to target and destroy all the shagging pigeons cluttering up the roof tops and chimneys around here. Oh, and clear out all the predatory gulls in places like St Ives which attack grockles for their pasties. Oh, and........I think the list might be longer than first anticipated.....

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Re: Limited lethal force only

Just change the law preventing these vermin from being killed, and the problem will go away...

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I assume that's 50 euro cents? I don't think I've ever seen a half dollar coin in the wild...

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FAIL

Whatever it is I have no idea of its size. And that's why we have the El Reg Standards Bureau -

https://www.theregister.co.uk/Tag/Reg+Standards+Bureau

https://www.theregister.co.uk/Design/page/reg-standards-converter.html

Unfortunately, from what I know of silicon chips, its size is smaller than a nano-Wales, so we need a new standard unit for smaller sizes. "Royal Mail Definitive Stamp" (Machins) might fit the bill but that's perhaps too British-centric to be a Universal El Reg Standard.

"Size of the hole in a CD-ROM, DVD, Blu-ray disc" might be an internationally acceptable alternative. Not sure of such a unit's name though.

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"Size of the hole in a CD-ROM, DVD, Blu-ray disc" might be an internationally acceptable alternative. Not sure of such a unit's name though.

How about an od-hole? :) (Optical Disc)

There is, unfortunately, a notable variable relationship in size to similar component measures for donkeys (left-pondians) or bottoms (everyone else).

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Anonymous Coward

re. 50 eurocents

I don't think I've ever seen one... Anyway, all hope's lost with BREXIT!

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How about an od-hole? :) (Optical Disc)

Perhaps "chod", a variation on paper "chad"?

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I'd seen many a US coin used for scale next to a specimen in National Geographic (often next to a high contrast ruler) long before I first held a US coin in my own hand.

I've also known people to use 1p and 2p coin when weighing out small quantities of herbs, but that's a different matter.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: re. 50 eurocents

Thanks to Brexit, we'll be seeing more of them - one of them will be exchangeable for a pound coin.

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Anonymous Coward

I don't think I've ever seen a half dollar coin in the wild...

We haven't had that denomination here since 1969

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: size

The exact quote from an email from one of the researchers is "50-cent coin". But turns out they meant a five eurocent coin.

C.

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Anonymous Coward

better at delivering lethal payloads

That won't be a problem with this drone, as Loquercio told El Reg that the prototype only works in limited experiments

And I bet the usual suspects, such as governments will NOT be interesteed, nosir.

p.s. when I say "governments", I mean those democratically elected who only ever want the drones to blow up the bad people! Evil Regimes (yesterday evil regimes / future / potential valuable partners), please look elsewhere, e.g. alixpress, etc.

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Anonymous Coward

Excellent...

... while we're creating small machines that can control themselves without the need for human guidance, maybe we should think about once again creating small people that can control themselves without the need for human guidance. This used to be called 'parenting'.

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WTF?

Re: Excellent...

Yes because children prior to 2015 never ever got into trouble, sat in silence and did everything perfectly.

Let me guess in those days, politicians were honest, criminals said "it's a fair cop guv'nor" and everywhere smelt of roses and had a beautiful soft focus.

Or is it you've just turned into a grumpy old man?

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Devil

Re: Excellent...

maybe we should think about once again creating small people that can control themselves without the need for human guidance.

Once they get to the stage that they can control themselves, in all pertinent aspects that is, they're not at all small any more, and the process will have taken the better part of two decades and a shitload of money.

Never mind that they still won't be equipped with an off switch.

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Who's paying for this research...

Autonomy will also help drones to monitor environments, spy on people and develop swarm intelligence for military use.

I suspect the answer is right there. Are there none spying uses for drones that small?

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Re: Who's paying for this research...

For this one with a 7 minute duration and a payload of 15 grams, I would say drugs delivery would be a fair bet.

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FAIL

Re: Who's paying for this research...

Hi there, I'm one of the authors of the paper and the underlying work (mainly for the architectural and software deployment part).

No idea where the "military use" thing comes from - certainly not from our work as anybody who actually read the paper.

For what's worth, the drone is a few grams heavy, its potential for massive destruction quite doubtful, the noise it emits makes it decidedly non-stealthy, and the funding that has paid for this research comes from public non-military research grants on deep learning, real-time autonomous systems and robotics (as explicitly stated in the paper, and copied below). Its autonomous intelligence is at the moment limited at going around without being utterly stupid and hitting things (which is in itself quite nice) -- not murder or espionage.

Look at big, nasty drones flying hundreds of meters / kilometer above your head if you fear being bombed or spied (for the latter, your smartphone could also suffice). We position this UAV as a nano-robot for tasks such as search & rescue in emergency situations, in which case all of its limitations are not so critical, while the advantages are really useful.

Ciao :)

Funding statement from the paper:

This work has been partially funded by projects EC H2020 HERCULES (688860), by the Swiss National Science Foundation under grant 162524 (MicroLearn: Micropower Deep Learning), by the Swiss National Center of Competence Research (NCCR) Robotics and by the SNSF-ERC starting grant.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: FConti

"No idea where the 'military use' thing comes from"

For what it's worth, the only mention of military in article is a general reference to autonomous drones, not any one in particular (such as the tech discussed in the paper). Also, we imagine small self-flying drones will be used for spying rather than direct damage.

C.

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Black Helicopters

Bonk bonk bonk! Honey, a spy drone is caught in the window again...

"Autonomy will also help drones to monitor environments, SPY ON PEOPLE* and develop swarm intelligence for military use." (* = My emphasis)

“In the future, I see them working similar to flies. Despite not [having an] elegant flying patterns - flies crash a lot - they can reach any place they need.”

Brilliant! This is the future Orwellian dystopia for me!

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Re: Bonk bonk bonk! Honey, a spy drone is caught in the window again...

Same thing as in the reply above. The work has nothing to do with military / espionage use, it's tiny, inoffensive, and noisy enough that it would really be difficult to use it to spy anyone. But, as argued in the paper, this thing has *plenty* of other usages that are absolutely inoffensive :)

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