Unmanned

Can scout drones be programmed with new tricks?

No one wants to fight a battle in a parking garage.

With thick, concrete walls, a controlled points of access, and the possibility for ambush by infantry and armed vehicles, parking garages in urban combat can serve as makeshift fortifications, hiding a great deal of future pain inside.

To spare the lives of humans, exploring such buildings is a task best done by robots. Yet the interiors of buildings, especially such massive stone-and-metal artifice, can make it difficult for GPS navigation and radio control.

One possible solution comes from Exyn Technologies, which announced this week that it has built code to allow drones to fly in and map a GPS-denied environment. Exyn calls this mission behavior “Scoutonomy,” to really drive home that it lets small drones scout, autonomously.

“These aerial robot systems sense and detect their surroundings in real-time to rapidly gather critical information—including high-fidelity 3D maps and human and object detection—for superior situational awareness,” the company said in an announcement.

That process involves small drones flying and mapping in real-time, creating a useful picture of the world around them which both the drones and humans can use to understand the space. It includes the ability to detect and navigate around obstacles in the area being mapped, such as people or vehicles.

Consider a group of soldiers fighting in a city in the future. Spotting a tall building with open windows on the edge of their route, the soldiers could send the scout robot to fly in, map the space, and most importantly, identify any people or threats found inside. Provided the robot is able to transmit out the information it gathers, that map could let humans on foot or future robots do a more thorough search, and could tell the soldiers if they need to take the building to eliminate a threat, or if they can operate as though it is unoccupied.

Away from the flash and danger of combat, the same scouting protocols could let drones explore buildings in a disaster response scenario, finding people who need rescuing without jeopardizing the lives of human rescuers in the process.

If urban and underground spaces are the battlefields of the future, robots that can map them in real-time will be an invaluable asset. “Scoutonomy” is one possible path, not just to greater battlefield situational awareness, but to R2-D2 (Reconnaissance, Routing, Detection, Determination).

Watch a drone with “Scoutonomy” explore a parking garage below:

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