First swarm of autonomous flying drones in the forests of China

In China. Inside a bamboo forest. Here’s where, for the first time, one swarm of drones flew in autonomous mode, without driver. Being able, in such a complex environment, to avoid any collision. All thanks to an innovative system incorporated in the small flying robots. The result of the experiment, published in the journal Science Roboticsis due to a research group led by Xin ZhouofChinese University of Zhejiang. Experiment that could open the door to applications such as aerial mapping for environmental monitoring or the coordination of aid in difficult cases (see earthquakes), as well as for specifics actions in the military field (the US has created drones specially made for operations in Ukraine).

The robots involved in the research were equipped with some depth cameras, a group of altitude sensors and an on-board computer. However, the most important innovation consists in a algorithm equipped with artificial intelligence, which manages not only to coordinate the movement of the swarm, managing its flight efficiently, but also to avoid collisions, therefore in safety. The challenge is to balance two somewhat conflicting needs. On the one hand, drones must necessarily keep their small size; on the other hand, they need high computing power to be able to identify the best flight route.

Chinese researchers tested the drones from time to time in a different scenario. Now in a group flight in a bamboo forest, now in a crowded environment avoiding other drones, They even tried to have the drones follow a person’s lead. Before being applied in the real world, however, this technology will need to be further tested in ultra-dynamic environments such as cities, where drones are constantly under pressure to avoid people, vehicles and other obstacles.

And among the cities there are also those who rely on these devices to create the ‘smart mobility’. In Italy, Enac and the Municipality of Florence have signed a protocol for theuse of drones and vertical take-off electric vehicles for the transport of people, goods and medicines. The objective of the collaboration is the development of efficient, safe, sustainable and interoperable air mobility services with airport infrastructures or public transport infrastructures. The mayor of Florence, Dario Nardellaclaims he wants to work seriously “on a new and modern infrastructure that includes, for example, areas reserved for vertical take-off drones for the transport of people, or territorial control systems for urban security, or even delivery activities”.

After the slowdown caused by the pandemic, 2021, for the drone sector, marked a certain restart. The professional market reached the value of 94 million eurosregistering a + 29% compared to 2020. Still too little, however, to return to pre-Covid levels (117 million euros in 2019).

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