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Drone Swarms Avoid Crashing With 'Safety Bubbles'

Watch out! A team of autonomous quadcopters can now work together without crashing.

Watch out! A team of autonomous quadcopters can now work together without crashing.

Emma Griffith

Since they were first introduced in the late 2000s, quadcopters have been used to enable new kinds of photography, military surveillance, and many failed recreational pilots.

And while quadcopters have been flying solo for years now, you haven't seen them flying in groups much because of how easy it is for them to crash into each other. If they so much as touch each other, they crash. Even if they get too close and get in the airflow of another quadcopter, they crash.

But now, researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have found a way to fix this. They created a team of quadcopters that can successfully fly without knocking each other out of the air.

As they explain in a new paper, the researchers started off by implementing a "barrier certificate" around each quadcopter. It works like a forcefield that rejects any other quadcopter that gets too close. As soon as one quadcopter flies within range, it reroutes to move away and continues peacefully on its way.

While this combats the collision problem, researchers also had to solve the air flow problem. They gave each quadcopter a two feet tall "top hat" to make sure they can't undercut another quadcopter and mess with its air flow.

"Safety bubbles" and "top hats" together now allow groups of quadcopters to swarm without the aid of human operators. So now instead of worrying about just one rogue quadcopter, we can worry about entire teams of them.

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