Many people might have believed that the 2000s would bring about a new age of technology, one in which robots or drones serve us as we sit back in our chairs.
Things turned out a little different it seems and, while that future depiction may still be quite a way off, resources have been directed towards the development of autonomous technology (particularly with regards to drones and cars).
When did the autonomous drone concept first take off?
By 2040, Morgan Stanley estimates that the autonomous urban aircraft industry will be worth $1.5 trillion. Many Americans were probably already introduced to the idea of autonomous drone delivery in 2013 (after Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said the company was working on the technology to get it involved with delivering their packages).
Since then, regulations have been loosened and a number of pilot programs throughout the nation have been established. These can encourage the delivery of consumer items by autonomous vehicle companies.
Autonomous drone delivery has attracted the attention of some of the largest and most powerful players in a variety of industries.
That futuristic flying car metropolis? It might be a reality soon
It’s very likely that we’ll be seeing tremendous progress at a rapid pace. Apparently, Amazon has designed visual, thermal and ultrasonic sensors in-house.
With the autonomous flight systems of Amazon’s drone able to manoeuvre it to its landing spot, the point was to develop a drone that is as safe as possible as independently as possible. We can expect it to react properly and safely even if it is not linked to a network when encountering new situations.
On the other side of the world, Chinese company Ehang gave a preview of what might lie ahead, releasing their first clip of passengers climbing on board their autonomous drones, with a button being pushed to take off.
Many companies are competing to launch their versions of computer-controlled airborne taxis. The participants in this ‘race’ include big aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing (BA) and lesser-known startups.
Autonomous drones could learn to be “artistic”
Commercial drones can handle certain automated tasks, but can they be artistic? A team led by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University has developed a full aerial cinematography program.
The fully autonomous system does not need scripted scenes, GPS tags to localize targets or maps of specific environments.
Why is this a big deal? Well, the film industry could (at some point in the future) have drones with the power and intuition of skilled directors. Drones might have the ability to understand important aspects of a scene and position themselves for context.
Automation may be used to make movie scenes visually interesting. The system designed by these researchers used a technique known as deep reinforcement learning. The technique relies on data from surveys about which visuals are more interesting compared to others.
Even though art might be considered subjective and difficult for a machine to understand, the system learned the movements necessary to produce such scenes, allowing drones to switch angles and get those professional shots.
The project is still in its infancy but it does display tremendous intelligence and potential.
Less human attention means more efficiency
Autonomous systems don’t necessarily end at entertainment and sports. Governments and police departments are already using drones that are flown manually. Expect these machines to help with monitoring crowds and understanding traffic patterns.
However, it takes a lot of time and attention to manually fly drones, and an officer cannot actually spend their resources looking at the scene. The same kind of principle used in the film project could be used for applications like security.
Autonomous drones are less about replacing humans and more about optimizing processes, allowing highly trained human professionals and experts to focus on what matters to them.
The environment may be better off because of it
Pär Degerman, CTO of the Swedish autonomous transport company Einreide, has highlighted the potential environmental benefits of driverless vehicles. Reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 90% while making road freight transport more efficient and safer through electric self-driving technology? This company just might.
You might start to see autonomous vehicles become more common on the roads, at first outside urban centres, most likely transporting goods between factories, distribution centres and stores.
Commercial drone pilots are already beginning to transport goods between warehouses and terminals. Look out for a gradual shift to other areas and more complex traffic solutions as autonomous vehicles and the technologies around them develop.
Humanitarian aid could improve drastically
Autonomous drone deliveries could (depending on the situation) even be life-changing. There are already humanitarian efforts that make use of UAVs. You may have heard of Zipline’s work in Africa (sending critical medical supplies to remote clinics).
Drones can reach areas that other delivery methods might not be able to.
Autonomous drones could become normal in almost every industry as they can optimize processes, increase efficiency and even reinforce safety measures.
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From delivery operations to security improvements and even artistic work, autonomous drones may soon help us deal with almost every aspect of our lives.
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