The university's project is just one of hundreds of drone research initiatives going on at companies and universities worldwide. The goal is to develop increasingly intelligent, autonomous drones that are cheap and easy enough for anyone to use.
Frog is working on the Guardian Angel, a self-flying drone that watches over you and sets your pace while you're out for a run. (Photo: Frog)
It's reasonable to expect that within a few years, self-flying drones that use their own cameras and sensors to map indoor environments -- and use GPS and cell-tower triangulation to map outdoor spaces -- will be widely available and relatively affordable.
Because they'll be robots, we'll use them less like toy planes and more like awesome consumer electronics devices that do real work for us.
Here are some examples of the roles that home robot-drones will be able to take on:
1. Photographer. When you're at a family barbecue and everybody huddles together for a group photograph, you'll be able to use a smartphone app to tell your drone to fly up and take pictures of the group. Or, if you're into extreme sports, your personal drone will be able to follow you and film you as you base-jump, snowboard or surf.
2. Running coach. When you go running, your self-flying drone will fly ahead of you to set the pace based on your heart rate or fitness goals.
3. Home security guard. If you're sound asleep and your security system's motion and sound sensors detect something happening in or around your house, a drone will activate itself and fly to the site to determine the nature of the problem. If image-detection software decides that an intruder has entered the house, or that your home or family's security or safety has otherwise been compromised, it will set off an alarm and stream a live video of the situation to your phone. If nothing important is happening, the drone will quietly return to its wireless-charging base and go back to sleep.
4. Personal servant. Say you're getting ready to leave for work but remember that you left your keys upstairs: You'll be able to tell your drone to go get them, and the device will fly upstairs, locate the keys, use a hook or claw to grab them and then fly back down and bring them to you. You could also have it deliver things within the house or throughout your neighborhood. For example, you could hand the drone a bag of holiday cookies and tell it to fly off and deliver the cookies to the mail carrier as he makes the rounds on your street; you could even have it share a message that it would deliver in a Siri-like robot voice.
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