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NASA’s A.I. Drone vs. Human FPV Pilot

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NASA may be known for their space explorations and their Mars Rover, but some of their latest ideas are geared towards improving everyday technology right here on Earth. Last October, Google sponsored a race between researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) against an FPV racer to showcase their latest advancements in artificial technology (A.I). NASA’s A.I. drone went up against world-class FPV pilot Ken Loo to see which UAV could pass through an obstacle course the fastest. Surprisingly enough, Loo won the race by nearly three seconds. Even though NASA’s A.I drone lost the race, researchers are using this technology to prepare for future drone deliveries and similar applications.

FPV Versus A.I. Drone Racing

The race track had obstacles that required pilots to zigzag through the course. Only one pilot at a time raced, and their lap times were recorded.  The A.I drone was programmed with the course’s map. Once it was started, NASA’s drone took off on its own and completed with an average lap time of 13.9 seconds. Loo proceeded after and flew his racing drone with a pair of FPV goggles. The recent Flight Fest 2017 champion finished with an average lap time of 11.1 seconds. It may not seem much of a difference, but in the racing world, every second counts!

A.I. Drone

According to NASA’s article, JPL’s Project Task Manager Rob Reid described their A.I. drone as a smoother and more consistent UAV, whereas Loo’s racing drone flew with aggressive accelerations.

A.I. Drone

“This is definitely the densest track I’ve ever flown,” Loo said. “One of my faults as a pilot is I get tired easily. When I get mentally fatigued, I start to get lost, even if I’ve flown the course 10 times.”

A.I. Drone

As fast as Loo was on the track, human effort was still required to maneuver the FPV drone. If the race had more laps, then NASA’s A.I. drone would have probably won since it was overall more consistent.

A.I. Drone

Future Technology

NASA also announced plans to help Uber create an air traffic system for future drone taxis earlier this month, so their interest in developing technology outside of space related use is starting to grow. The technology for a drone to fly by itself can be used inside of a warehouses to deliver products. Autonomous drones can be utilized for search and rescue missions. The applications are nearly endless for A.I. drones, and NASA’s racing drone is the embodiment of their latest research. With help from the likes of NASA, future drone technology can actually be implemented into everyday society.

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