Switzerland: Researchers from the University of Bologna and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich claim to have developed the world’s smallest autonomous drone.
When it comes to the nano-drone industry, this is a milestone. With a smaller battery comes a decrease in power and flight time. For nano-drones, which are defined by maximum four-inch diameters, developing a model somewhere in between these two poles has been a longtime struggle for engineers.
“We did not test this extensively, but from first tests, we saw that we were running out of battery after approximately five minutes,” said researcher Antonio Loquercio. “It would be nice to achieve 30 minutes of autonomy. This would be more than enough to inspect, for example, medium-sized warehouses and get back to the charging station.”
These two teams used a new mobile processor called GAP8, which is comprised of eight processing cores that are specifically designed to process artificial intelligence applications like image recognition, which is vital to an autonomous drone.
GAP8’s foundation is built on RISC-V, which is, in turn, based on RISC (reduced instruction set computer) technology from the 1980s. RISC -V essentially spares the GAP8 chip from demanding extensive processing power by multi-tasking its operations.
.“We still need to overcome many technical and algorithmic challenges before this will become a real product,” said Loquercio. “I believe that in the next five years we will start getting something working in controlled environments, [such] as industries or warehouses. To apply it ‘into the wild’ one should probably wait a bit more.”