The same day that Amazon announced a trial run of its delivery by drone service in India, a couple of MIT researchers released a new study that shows how to keep delivery drones running efficiently — and it’s funded by Boeing. A team of researchers have developed what is essentially a health kit for drones, to help avoid in-flight failures and breakdowns. The first algorithm allows an in-flight drone to monitor fuel level and the condition of parts like propellers and cameras, and to make proactive decisions. If the fuel level is low, for example, a drone with MIT’s algorithms can anticipate the need for fuel and go to a station.
When (or if) Amazon and other companies begin delivering items via drones, there will be little room for error. Their drones must be equipped to deal with any unexpected obstacles that come their way, whether that’s a construction crane or strong winds and rain. MIT researchers revealed a set of algorithms today that could help drones avoid catastrophe with advance planning. The first step takes place before the drone even takes to the air, when it computes a few potential routes out of the many it could take, allowing it to determine different situations it might encounter along its journey. That has the added benefit of freeing up computing time while the drone is in the air so it can focus on staying aloft. “Imagine a huge tree of possibilities, and a large chunk of leaves collapses to one leaf, and you end up with maybe 10 leaves instead of a million leaves,” researcher Ali-akbar Agha-mohammadi said in a release. “Then you can … let this run offline for say, half an hour, and map a large environment, and accurately predict the collision and failure probabilities on different routes.”