Google-Funded NASA Drone Race: Humans v The Power of AI

Source: NASA JPL

In matter of tech experimentation, Google is out of the league these days. Indeed, it feels as if their employees literally had that ‘seeker’ spirit of the company in real life too, translating it into an endless curiosity for whatever related to innovation nowadays — I mean, who’d say that what started as the first search engine of Internet would be one of the main actors in the scene of robotic and artificial intelligence a few years later?

In this way, hunting even out of the Earth’s limits, Google partnered with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for funding the most exciting race of this year after that one of Yamaha’s robot-rider against Valentino Rossi. Of course, I’m telling about the one between a self driving, AI-powered drone versus a professional human pilot.

Source: Google

Google and NASA to develop fully autonomous drones

So there are a lot of companies at present, as Amazon, that are betting to artificial intelligence for improving their platforms. In addition, a considerable percentage of experts in other sectors believe in AI to be the stronger game changer in matter of tech. All of this makes sense since, overall, it feels like we are at a futuristic point where robotics is much more of a software challenge than a hardware one.

That being said, even gadgets that has been incredibly well-sold and popularized worldwide, are being internally re-structured to evolve in function of our society needings, as it’s the story of the famous drones — Because for sure, it was already time to make other smarter gadgets than just the smartphones, ugh!

In fact, that’s what Google and NASA’s JPL are preparing this time, artificial intelligence’s DNA drones, so that they can be fully autonomous, or in other words, smart-drones. But why is it interesting to make drones fly by themselves when the funniest part of a drone is to control it? The truth is, the future of drone has nothing to do with what experts have made us believe.

Far beyond of taking selfies of our special moments, drones have been even called for enlisting to the army, and as long as the flying stuff and their components get smaller, more efficient, and more capable, they will slowly become into a focus of attention for warehouses and massive production companies — Where an automated performance it’s a clever idea we cannot find on Google.

Source: Drone Review

Human vs. Machine: the neverending battle

Lately, the best way for some to prove that a self-operated gadget has chances, is to try it against humans, and with the first self-powered drone it was not the exception. As if it were a self-driving car, the flying gadget did shine on high-speed dynamic maneuvering and using only on-board hardware, a.k.a. pure artificial intelligence, and you’ll be shocked to check out by yourself here.

The way the JPL + Google’s drone is able to decide where to go is based on a 3D map of the course that it constructs by itself using its two wide field-of-view cameras, pointing forwards and downwards respectively, and letting it draw a visual-inertial map by odometry for tracking and stereo motion.

Although for Ken Loo, the professional drone pilot that did represent our whole race, the constrained track was kind of tricky, after learning the path it just took to him around 11 seconds to run it successfully at his best mark, while the autonomous drone needed an average of 3 seconds more.

Source: Time

Finally, the student didn’t beat the teacher this time, or their creator to be exact in this case. However, the differences were the same as robots playing violins: Loo did vary the nuances of speed, accelerating and decelerating more dramatically, in contrast to the smoother and mostly consistent AI-based drone.

It’s a draw, should we say? In any case, it’s a human victory that thanks to Google and NASA we’ll be able to have some sort of second industrialization very soon by the application of those flying things, which although researchers stated it’s an ongoing work , it’s not possible to say much of what’s next. Anyways, there’s no doubt that following such a powerful partnership like that, the next one to put their foots in the moon after the man might be a self-driving drone.