Drone Control? There’s An App For That

Great piece in Wired’s Danger Room on a new iPhone app developed at MIT:

Her crew of 30 grad students and undergrads is chasing a number of new ideas and technologies, all aimed at easing the sometimes unwieldy interactions between machines and their human masters. As an example, she refers to the complex, suitcase-sized controller that soldiers must haul around to control hand-thrown Raven unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Cummings wants something simpler. And what could be simpler than an iPhone?

Actually, using an iPhone was her undergrads’ idea — because experimenting with it as a basis for a new robot controller meant she’d have to buy them all iPhones of their own. “We had the idea in June,” Cummings told Danger Room. “In six weeks, we went from the idea to a real flight test,” using MIT’s indoor robot range. (See video.) The total cost? $5,000 for a new, commercially available, quad-rotor robot — plus the cost of iPhones for her crew.

The iPhone bot controller is basically just an app, like any other. It relies on only the iPhone’s existing gear, and the phone can still be used for regular calls, web-browsing, texting, etc. HAL’s bot-wrangling app sends GPS coordinates to the robot, which navigates around using its own, built-in “sense-and-avoid” capabilities. Along the way, the bot can stream video or snapshots back to the iPhone.

 Yeah, there’s a video…