Stanford graduates pilot unmanned aircraft project

Helicopters flying without any pilots may seem like the realm of science fiction, but one group of Peninsula researchers is working toward just that.

The unmanned, “autonomous helicopters” they have developed could fly over wildfires, volcanoes and other dangerous situations.

One of the big steps forward in technology that the group has made is how the robot is programmed to fly the aircraft, according to Pieter Abbeel, a recent Stanford graduate student who worked on the project with three classmates and their computer science professor, Andrew Ng.

A computer on the ground uses two cameras to watch maneuvers, such as a flip, being performed, Abbeel said.

The computer has sensors that monitor the angling rate, acceleration and direction. After about 10 times of seeing the maneuver, the computer should be able to replicate it, he said.

The autonomous helicopters could eventually be used in dangerous situations to replace aircraft piloted by humans, Abbeel said.

“Everybody tries to think of ways in which their research might help people,” said Adam Coates, a doctoral student at Stanford who worked on the project. “I think the fascinating thing about this is that stuff comes up that we didn’t even think about before.”

Abbeel said a possible next step would be for the technology to operate cars, although he admitted it is an entirely different concept altogether. Helicopter flying is hard enough with different wind speeds and conditions, but learning how to deal with traffic signs, other motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians and all the other variables of driving would make that effort far more difficult, he said.

The group admits that it is no coincidence that it was able to develop such state-of-the-art technology on the Peninsula.

“It’s been great being around here because there are lots of high-tech companies that we can talk to,” Coates said.

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

businessLocalScience & TechnologyScience and Technology

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays attends an event to honor the San Francisco Giants' 2014 World Series victory on Thursday, June 4, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
Willie Mays turns 90: San Francisco celebrates the greatest Giant

By Al Saracevic Examiner staff writer I couldn’t believe it. Willie Mays… Continue reading

Ja’Mari Oliver, center, 11, a fifth grader at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, is surrounded by his classmates at a protest outside the Safeway at Church and Market streets on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 in support of him following an April 26 incident where he was falsely accused by an employee of stealing. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
School community rallies behind Black classmate stopped at Safeway

‘When you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us’

A warning notice sits under the windshield wiper of a recreational vehicle belonging to a homeless man named David as it sits parked on De Wolf Street near Alemany Boulevard on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. A proposed SF Municipal Transportation Agency law would make it illegal for overnight parking on the side street for vehicles taller than seven feet or longer than 22 feet. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA to resume ‘poverty tows’ amid calls to make temporary ban permanent

Fines and fees hurt low-income, homeless residents, but officials say they are a necessary tool

Income from Shared Spaces will provide financial resources to the San Francisco Municipal Transporation Agency, according to its director, Jeffrey Tumlin. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA director says Shared Spaces serves transit agency’s financial interest

$10.6 million price tag for program raises concerns among transit agency’s board members

A broad coalition of tenants and housing rights organizers rally at Stanley Mosk Courthouse to protest eviction orders issued against renters Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Federal judge strikes down CDC’s national moratorium on evictions

David Yaffe-Bellany, Noah Buhayar Los Angeles Times A federal judge in Washington… Continue reading

Most Read