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The Ultimate Worlds | May 21, 2018

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European Space Agency (ESA) start new app of drone technology app to improve space robotics

European Space Agency (ESA) start new app of drone technology app to improve space robotics
Dr. Yehia Mechref

The ESA has released an app as part of a project to improve space robots’ ability to rendezvous and navigate their environments.

The augmented reality game lets owners of Parrot AR.Drone quadcopters attempt dockings with a simulated International Space Station while flying their drones for real – in the process helping to improve robotic rendezvous methods.

This new app of AstroDrone is part of a scientific crowdsourcing project by ESA’s Advanced Concepts Team, gathering data to teach robots to navigate and forecasting their environments.

“People intuitively assess their position and motion in relation to their surroundings in various ways, based on what they see before them,” said Guido de Croon, team research fellow.

“This new app lets us crowdsource examples of this process in practice, as a first step to reproducing it with artificial intelligence.

“For ESA, the result could be much more autonomous spacecraft that can reliably manoeuvre, dock or land themselves.”

Remote-controlled drones were once the province of the military, but technology advances make them accessible now to everybody.

“For ESA, this development opens up completely new ways of involving the public in scientific experiments,” said Leopold Summerer, head of the Advanced Concepts Team.

“We can obtain real-life data to train our algorithms in large amounts that would practically be impossible to get in any other way.

The AR.Drone is one example: around half a million have been sold since their introduction by France’s Parrot company in 2010.

Equipped with two cameras, the midget drone flies on four rotors and can be steered by iPhone or any other iOS device.

“We wanted to carry out robotic crowdsourcing, which meant selecting a robot that the public actually possesses in large numbers,” added de Croon.

“This is indeed a robot that people have at home and play games with, with the imaging capabilities we need.”

“In addition, the manufacturer has made the source code needed to communicate with the drone open to anyone to develop software.”

With AstroDrone, the controller places an augmented-reality marker on a real-world feature to serve as the Space Station docking port.