Wednesday, 03 Sep, 2008 Technology

AI Allows Choppers to Teach Themselves to Fly


A group of computer scientists managed to create an artificial intelligence system that allows robotic helicopters to train themselves to perform complicated maneuvers by watching other helicopters do classy stunts.

The final result presented by scientists from Stanford University is an autonomous helicopter able to perform an airshow of complicated stunts on its own.

Andrew Ng, Stanford University professor heading the research of graduate students: Pieter Abbeel, Adam Coates, Timothy Hunter and Morgan Quigley, said that the tricks are by far the most complicated aerobatic maneuvers performed by any computer controlled helicopter.

The AI system learned how to fly by simply watching the tricks performed by a helicopter radio controlled by Garett Oku.

"Garett can pick up any helicopter, even ones he's never seen, and go fly amazing aerobatics. So the question for us is always, why can't computers do things like this?" Coates said.

In order to answer this question two of the graduate students prepared one of their helicopters for an autonomous flight. Their helicopter is an off-the-shelf radio control device but with some features added by the scientists.

It took the helicopter five minutes to perform a series of difficult tricks that a full-scale piloted chopper could not perform. Among the most difficult maneuvers there was: traveling flips, rolls, loops with pirouettes, stall-turns with pirouettes, a knife-edge, an Immelmann, a slapper, an inverted tail slide and a "fast backward funnel." But probably the most amazing trick was the "tic toc," when the chopper, pointing straight up, moves with a side-to-side motion resembling the pendulum of an upside down clock.

Eric Feron, a Georgia Tech aeronautics and astronautics professor who also worked on the development of autonomous helicopters said that the most impressive lies in the technology that underlies the project. "In a way, the machine teaches itself how to do this by watching an expert pilot fly. This is amazing," he added.


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