Autonomous Helicopters

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These automatons are certainly not adrift but they are definitely airborne and capable! Computer Scientists at Stanford have developed an autonomous helicopter that can learn from a human expert pilot to perform complex manoeuvres better than the original human expert!

The learning system does not just copy the controls for performing the manoeuvres it watches several built in sensors for the state of the environment around the helicopter and through several iterations develops an algorithm that can handle situations that were not part of the training but allow the autonomous pilot to complete the manoeuvre. These adapted agents could even keep more precise control over the aircraft than the original pilot could.

“For five minutes, the chopper, on its own, ran through a dizzying series of stunts beyond the capabilities of a full-scale piloted helicopter and other autonomous remote control helicopters. The artificial-intelligence helicopter performed a smorgasbord of difficult maneuvers: traveling flips, rolls, loops with pirouettes, stall-turns with pirouettes, a knife-edge, an Immelmann, a slapper, an inverted tail slide and a hurricane, described as a “fast backward funnel.”

The pièce de résistance may have been the “tic toc,” in which the helicopter, while pointed straight up, hovers with a side-to-side motion as if it were the pendulum of an upside down clock.”

I know I can’t do any of that and I certainly couldn’t learn it quickly. Could the learning system that Ng and his team have created be adapted to driving cars and flying planes? Possibly, as it depends on if it uses any assumptions about its environment. Flying around in a big open space is much easier than driving quickly through busy city streets. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. The only downside to this research is it could be used to pilot Autonomous military planes to deploy weapons, completing the conversion of war to a video game.

Hopefully we see this deployed for peaceful use instead.

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