Virtual Reality Training Ground for Drones

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RD Magazine has released an article reporting that scientists have developed a new virtual training ground that can help fine-tune fast-flying drones, without a lot of messy cleanup or broken windows.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a new virtual reality system that allows drones to see a rich virtual environmental in an empty physical space.

The new system — dubbed “Flight Goggles” — could serve as a virtual testbed for several different environmental and other conditions where researchers want to test and train fast-flying drones.

“We think this is a game-changer in the development of drone technology, for drones that go fast,” Sertac Karaman, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, said in a statement. “If anything, the system can make autonomous vehicles more responsive, faster, and more efficient.”

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Flight Goggles is comprised of a motion capture system, an image rendering program and electronics that enable the researchers to quickly process images and transmit them to the drone. The researchers lined the test space — a hanger-like gymnasium — with motion-capture cameras that can track the orientation of the drones as they fly.

With the image-rendering system, the researchers can draw up photorealistic scenes, like a loft apartment or a living room, and beam the virtual images to the drone as it is flying through the empty facility.

“The drone will be flying in an empty room, but will be ‘hallucinating’ a completely different environment, and will learn in that environment,” Karaman said.

The drone can process the virtual images at a rate of about 90 frames per second — about three times faster than the human eye can see and process images — because of custom-built circuit boards that integrate a powerful embedded supercomputer, along with an inertial measurement unit and camera. Continue reading about MIT’s new training for drones.


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