First-ever autonomous drone race reveals AI immaturity

Date:14 October 2019 Author: Elise Kirsten Tags:,

The Drone Racing League (DRL), the global, professional drone racing circuit launched its first-ever AI racing drone, ahead of its autonomous drone-racing series in Orlando, Florida last week.

Unfortunately, it didn’t go quite as smoothly as planned and drone crashes where the order of the day.

Nine identical flying machines, known as the DRL RacerAI and operated only by AI , competed against each other.  Without any GPS, human intervention or data relay, each drone was given three opportunities to navigate an indoor track made of four square-shaped checkpoints, in a straight line.

Only two of the 27 runs resulted in the drone making it through the first checkpoint.

Crashes where frequent, one drone ‘floated for about a second before flipping violently and dropping onto the arena floor, sending bits of it flying,’according to the Orlando Sentinel.

However, global league representatives and experts said that’s just part of the fun.

During a panel discussion on the drones that were programmed with artificial intelligence, Sertac Karaman, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT explained, “If you’re not seeing any failures, you are not pushing the technology enough.”

The best of these fully autonomous drone, that program themselves, will compete against quadcopters piloted by the (human) DRL Allianz World Champion at the end of the series in Austin, Texas, on 6 December.

“We are going to need some really talented engineers, computer programmers and robotics experts to build the next generation of autonomous drones,” said Drone Racing League CEO Nicholas Horbaczewski after the first autonomous race.

When the the DRL RacerAI was launched ahead of the event, Horbaczewski  said in a press statement, “the DRL RacerAI is a major milestone for The Drone Racing League and the future of sports. AI has defeated humans in nearly every digital game we know, but it hasn’t come close to defeating a human in real-life sports — yet.”

“Through the competitive AIRR events, we’ll watch the DRL RacerAI get faster and smarter, catch up to human competitors, and one day, outpace the best pilot in the world. This will mark an initial step towards a future when autonomous systems can operate in all complex flying environments, from package delivery to search and rescue missions.”


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