You may be familiar with the robot vacuum cleaner from iRobot called the Roomba.
It’s the small, motorized cleaning gizmo that sucks up dirt from your floors without any human intervention. Basically, it traverses the floor, bumping into walls, furniture and other obstacles and in the process “learning” the layout of the room.
I recently came upon “What Happens When Drones Start Thinking on Their Own,” an op-ed piece republished online by Live Science, which included a YouTube video of a drone called Gimball that uses collisions to learn its way forward, sort of the Roomba of the air.
Gimball, the creation of Swiss firm Flyability, was designed to be flown indoors to help rescuers get a view of hazardous environs, such as the scene of a chemical spill or fire, without putting them in harm’s way.
Its propeller, motor, onboard digital smarts and camera are mounted to a gyroscopic apparatus that allows Gimball to maintain proper orientation as it flies indoors, bumping into walls, beams, furniture and people.
That bundle of drone tech is surrounded by a rotating protective carbon-fiber frame that looks sort of like two geodesic domes attached together at their bases.
The enclosure makes Gimball collision-tolerant and people-friendly, protecting anyone who should come into contact with the drone from being injured by its propeller.
Not only does Gimball tolerate collisions, it actually thrives on them by using the experience as a data point to help it determine its relative location.
That’s why I think this Roomba with a view, or a drone that is similar, could one day find its way into newsgathering. Sure, the camera shoots from inside the enclosure and picks up its carbon-fiber members, but that’s nothing a little image processing couldn’t remove.
For news organizations looking to demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration that it is possible to fly a drone around and over people without putting them in danger, Gimball, or something like it, may offer an answer.