Students Create Smartphone Powered Drone That Flies By Itself

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December 13, 2013 11:53am PST

A team of student researchers in Vienna has invented a drone that flies by itself without using remote control or GPS powered only by the computer capabilities of an Android smartphone.

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Team leader Annette Mossel’s “SmartCopter” can navigate indoor spaces without human guidance and using only the power of the computer processing power of an Android phone.


The team of Vienna students.

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The research team says that their invention could help revolutionize autonomous drones allowing fire departments to map fire scenes or police get a view of a crime or hostage scene all without endangering first responders.

“We wanted to keep the costs low and build our copter based on open hardware approaches,” Mossel said in an interview with the MIT Technology Review.


Team leader Annette Mossel.

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The team’s copter drone is powered by a Samsung Galaxy SII, four small motors affixed to fan blades, and one microcontroller. The whole copter costs only $412 to build (not including the cost of the phone).

GPS doesn’t work indoors as it is only accurate within yards and cannot work at pinpoint accuracy. So, to solve that problem, the team developed a smartphone app that uses an accelerometer, a gyroscope, and a magnetometer coupled with the phone’s camera to create a map of the a room.

(See also: FAA Says 10,000 Drones In the Skies By 2020, Monitoring YOU)

In the US, the federal government has announced a five-year plan to allow wider private use of drones. Currently only government agencies are allowed to use drones in the US with impunity. It is harder for private companies to get permission from the FAA to do so.

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