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A research team claims that their drone is the currently smallest autonomous racing drone in the world, only 10 cm in diameter and weighing 72 grams. Autonomous drone racing by human pilots has become a major e-sport. Over the years, the speed of autonomous race drones has been gradually improving, with some of the fastest drones in recent competitions now moving at 2 m/s.
Most of the autonomous racing drones are equipped with high-performance processors, with multiple, high-quality cameras and sometimes even with laser scanners enabling visual perception, like building maps of the environment or tracking accurately how the drone is moving over time. However, it also makes the drones relatively heavy and expensive.
A team from the Micro Air Vehicle Laboratory (MAVLab) of TU Delft has developed light-weight and cheap autonomous racing drones that could be used by many drone racing enthusiasts to train with or fly against. If the drone becomes small enough, it could even be used for racing at home.
The focus on light weight and cheap solutions means other applications than racing, such as search and rescue or package delivery can be considered.
The main challenge in creating the drone lies in the use of only a single, small camera and in the highly restricted amount of processing. The main innovation is the design of robust, yet extremely efficient algorithms for motion prediction and computer vision.
The drone used the newly developed algorithms to race along a 4-gate race track. It can fly multiple laps at an average speed of 2 m/s, which is competitive with larger, state-of-the-art autonomous racing drones, according to tudelft.nl.