2017 seems like it was the year of drone technology, with drones becoming more common in every aspect of daily life. Drones are slowly being integrated into company procedures and processes, and are even being used by law enforcement groups across the world to help with everything from search-and-rescue missions to traffic monitoring. As drone technology advances, we can expect to see drones take on even more jobs!
Automated technology is also becoming more prevalent, and many are waiting for the day that automated technology can successfully replace human-controlled technology. One advantage of automated technology is that it is less likely to perform any errors that can be attributed to fatigue or negligence, unlike in the case of human-controlled technology. NASA wanted to see if human-controlled drones were more efficient and effective than an automated drone, and they came up with some very interesting results.
This past October, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California had Ken Loo, an experienced pilot who flies drones professionally, fly his drone against an automated drone. The AI-drone was truly a technological feat, as Google and NASA had invested two years of autonomy research into its creation. NASA wanted to see if Loo could pilot his drone better than the AI drone through a controlled obstacle course.
Three drones were altered and customized using algorithms generated by Tango, in order to prepare controls for the experiment. Tango, a Google platform, uses computerized vision to help the drones navigate through their environment. Both the AI drone and Loo’s drone were extremely fast, though they were limited to speeds of about 40 miles per hour due to the sharp turns in the obstacle course.
The results of the experiment show that Loo’s drone made significantly sharper turns, and tended to suddenly judder sometimes, as a result of slight human error; this was expected by scientists, and these results were unsurprising. The autonomous drone flew much more smoothly, however it still lagged behind Loo’s drone by 2.8 seconds, showing that human pilots still can outperform AI.
AI drone technology will undoubtedly continue to advance, because they would be able to make life easier for so many people. NASA hopes that these drone advantages can even be used within their work, allowing drones to travel the space station autonomously without human intervention.