The worst part of having a drone is losing it. Pilots will go to great lengths to make sure their drones stay clear of harm, whether it's diving into a canal to save it from drowning or turning a mishap on national television into a learning experience and warning for others. SmartChutes is a crowdfunding campaign Kickstarter right now that envisions a better way: parachutes for drones that deploy automatically when the drone is in peril.
The biggest physical constraint on small drones is their power supply. Batteries can only hold so much energy, and as adding more batteries to a drone also increase the weight of that drone, there are finite limits on how long quadcopters can fly in a single flight. A new drone concept by Horizon Unmanned Systems seeks to overcome that limitation, by turning to an alternative power source: hydrogen fuel cells.
Sonia Chernova wants you to train her robot. Two years ago, Chernova and some of her fellow roboticists at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachussets launched a remote robotics lab called RobotsFor.Me, a site where users can log in and teach robots how to function in physical space. It's both more and less exciting than it sounds. Participants might play a game where they rack up points based on the number of objects they can help the robot pick up in 10 minutes. But these tutors aren't exactly diving into an immersive, robot's-eye-view interface. “We abstract everything,” says Chernova, who directs WPI's Robot Autonomy and Interactive Learning lab. “They've never seen this robot. They've never been trained to use it properly. They don't realize the robot costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
From the body type alone, Sprite looks less like a drone and more like a sleek and modern water bottle aimed at hikers. It's a far cry from the standard four-rotored body of most drones, but that forms the Sprite's central sales pitch: a portable drone, that can slide easily into a backpack for outdoor use.
Lyme disease, swine flu, bubonic plague—many of humanity's greatest scourges jumped from our animal co-habitants to make us sick. During an outbreak, researchers need to understand where the disease is coming from in order to effectively treat it and stop it from spreading. But with thousands of pests as possible vectors of disease, and with diseases coming from animals more frequently now than ever before, they often have difficulty doing so. Now artificial intelligence can help identify disease-carrying animals with up to 90 percent accuracy, according to a study published yesterday in the journal PNAS.
Were it not for a volunteer and his drone, four people may have been swept away for good in floodwaters of Johnson County, Texas this past weekend. Drone operator Garrett Bryl twice used his DJI Inspire quadcopter for rescue work, working alongside the Joshua County fire department. It's a great example of the good that drones in the right hands can do.