By Evan Ackerman
January 15, 2018
In IEEE Spectrum
Last month, we wrote about autonomous quadrotors from the University of Pennsylvania that use just a VGA camera and an IMU to navigate together in swarms. Without relying on external localization or GPS, quadrotors like these have much more potential to be real-world useful, since they can operate without expensive and complex infrastructure, even indoors.
One potential application for drones like these is disaster operations, but honestly, that’s just what everyone says when you ask them how their mobile robot could potentially be useful. What’s much more interesting to us are commercial applications, and with drones, that inevitably means talking about delivery. There are a lot of reasons why we’re skeptical about most commercial delivery drones, but that doesn’t mean that the idea of using drones to move things from place to place isn’t a good one.
Vijay Kumar’s lab at UPenn has been working on using their GPS-independent quadrotors for transporting payloads, and they’re doing it collaboratively—the idea is that objects that are too large or heavy for one quadrotor to move can instead be moved by multiple quadrotors working together, and ultimately, they could be the best way to move items around a warehouse.
"The use of multiple MAVs can provide additional benefits compared to the use of a single vehicle when solving a task. Although the complexity of such systems increases with the number of vehicles, the additional vehicles allow the transport of payloads that cannot be transported by a single vehicle because of size and payload constraints, and can provide robustness to the system to compensate for single vehicle failures."