A recent drone race at University Central Florida (UCF) made one thing clear: the robot revolution remains a ways off. A parade of autonomous drones took turns tumbling awkwardly through the air, veering sharply toward walls and crashing, sometimes in spectacular fashion, at Addition Arena during the first-ever race of the machines.
Nine vehicles were given three chances to navigate a track made up of four square-shaped checkpoints essentially set in a straight line during the Drone Racing League's season-opening event. Of the 27 runs, only two resulted in the drone making it through the first checkpoint.
During a panel discussion on the drones programmed with artificial intelligence, Sertac Karaman, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, said: "If you're not seeing any failures, you are not pushing the technology enough."
The race marked the launch of the first division of the league to feature vehicles not piloted by humans by remote control. Instead, the teams had to train the vehicles to spot, identify and then figure out a way to evade obstacles in their paths, while staying on track toward the goal. The result was a series of heats that featured drones checking out their environment and spotting obstacles before ultimately deciding to either turn around, jolt sky high or shoot toward the floor as a crowd of about 500 cheered them on.
The new circuit will reward the winning team with $1 million at the end of a four-race circuit, which will next visit Washington, DC, on November 2. Team USRG, based at the research-centric Kaist University in South Korea, won the UCF event.