This Autonomous Quadrotor Swarm Doesn’t Need GPS

The GRASP Lab’s flying robots do some amazing things under the invisible glow of PERCH’s motion-tracking camera system, but to have an impact in the real world, they will need to figure out where they’re going without that kind of eye-in-the-sky.

Enter VIO-Swarm, the latest set of collaborative quadrotors from the lab, which fly together using only small onboard cameras and inertial measurement units.

At IEEE Spectrumrobotics reporter Evan Ackerman writes about VIO-Swarm, calling it “probably the largest swarm of quadrotors which don’t rely on motion capture or GPS.”

The vast majority of the fancy autonomous flying we’ve seen from quadrotors has relied on some kind of external localization for position information. Usually it’s a motion capture system, sometimes it’s GPS, but either way, there’s a little bit of cheating involved. This is not to say that we mind cheating, but the problem with cheating is that sometimes you can’t cheat, and if you want your quadrotors to do tricks where you don’t have access to GPS or the necessary motion capture hardware and software, you’re out of luck.

Researchers are working hard towards independent autonomy for flying robots, and we’ve seen some impressive examples of drones that can follow paths and avoid obstacles using only onboard sensing and computing. The University of Pennsylvania has been doing some particularly amazing development in this area, and they’ve managed to teach a swarm of of a dozen 250g quadrotors to fly in close formation, even though each one is using just one small camera and a simple IMU.

Continue reading Ackerman’s coverage, as well as an interview with GRASP research scientist Giuseppe Loianno, at IEEE Spectrum.

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This Autonomous Quadrotor Swarm Doesn’t Need GPS