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

The J Church train could begin running again later this month on at least part of its surface route. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)
First Muni trains will return to service Dec. 19

Three additional bus routes coming back online in January

Smoking cannabis. (Shutterstock)
Supes ban tobacco smoking in apartments but exempt cannabis

San Francisco banned smoking and vaping of tobacco in apartments Tuesday night,… Continue reading

Dr. Grant Colfax and Mayor London Breed said new restrictions could come this week due to rising COVID-19 cases.<ins> (Examiner screenshot)</ins>
Breed: ‘More restrictive action’ needed to slow spread of COVID-19

San Francisco officials said Tuesday tougher restrictions will soon be imposed to… Continue reading

Many landlords fought the proposal requiring them to register properties, calling it an invasion of privacy. 
Kevin N. Hume/
S.F. Examiner
Housing inventory wins unanimous approval from supervisors

Legislation will require landlords to register properties, report vacancies and rents

Harlan Kelly, head of the SFPUC and husband to City Administrator Naomi Kelly (right), faces federal charges for allegedly trading inside information on a city contract in return for a paid family vacation. (Courtesy photo)
Harlan Kelly, head of SFPUC, charged with fraud in widening Nuru scandal

Kelly accused of engaging in corrupt partnership with permit expediter

Most Read