At Area X.O, we’re helping companies develop autonomous car technology using our private test track and working closely with the City of Ottawa to explore solutions on public streets. In addition, we’re working with leading companies building aerial drones and ground robotic technology, as described in our recent DARTT Zone announcement.
If you’re wondering whether there’s any intersection between drones, cars, and robots, there most definitely is. Many common traits make collaboration between these seemingly unrelated disciplines interesting and fruitful. Continue below to explore a few of the common traits connecting these disciplines.
Drones, cars, and robots all rely on a similar assortment of sensors to perceive their surroundings, locate themselves in space, and navigate their environment. These sensors include technologies like lidar, radar, cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and GPS.
Sensors feed data into computer vision and navigation planning systems that, especially between ground robots and autonomous cars, use similar goal seeking methods.
While airborne drones may not have earthly obstacles to avoid or roads to follow, an autonomous drone still requires path planning. They must also avoid powerlines, trees, and either geofenced or controlled air zones while following a path that keeps radio contact and, depending on the application, maintains line-of-sight to the operator.
The high-level autonomous planning and navigation systems from vehicles, robots, and drones use the same machine learning techniques to recognize objects and make appropriate decisions. Machine learning algorithms require large amounts of data, and the best practices for collection, filtering, separation, and training with this data is the same in all three disciplines.
Although there are definite differences between them, automated cars, robots, and drones are all IoT devices. They rely on an assortment of wireless protocols and portions of the spectrum (including WiFi, Bluetooth, 5G, satellite, and others) for connectivity, and they use their connections to receive updated information or instructions and to return any data they collect.
The commonality between these systems may be the greatest at the back end, where server technology that coordinates, distributes, and dispatches is the same whether it’s a fleet of vehicles, a phalanx of robots, or a swarm of drones.
The technology powering different types of mobility devices is common, especially as vehicles become more electric.
Advancements in battery storage capacity, reductions in power consumption, and improvements in materials that reduce weight positively affect cars, robots, and drones, so researchers making improvements in one area of mobility help everyone.
While many underlying technologies may be shared between autonomous cars, robots, and drones, they also have their own mobility modalities that make them unique.
That uniqueness is a benefit, as these three device types can be used alongside each other in many novel ways.
Combining technologies can make people much more efficient or capable in certain areas.
- Search and rescue: In dangerous environments or uncertain conditions, drones could be deployed from emergency vehicles to provide aerial surveillance and identify victim locations as well as possible hazards before human emergency responders are able to get to the scene. And in some situations, such as treacherous terrain or large fires, appropriately configured ground robots may be able to reach people much sooner than paramedics or firefighters.
- Delivery services: Last mile delivery is a clear case of potential car-drone collaboration: delivery vans can bring packages to a neighborhood and drones can fly individual items to each customer’s doorstep.
- Traffic rerouting: For detours and accidents, drones could be launched from patrol cars to monitor traffic conditions, identify accidents or congestion, and then communicate this information back to the vehicle operators to help with efficient rerouting.
- Infrastructure inspection: Drones and robots could be used in conjunction with vehicles to inspect infrastructure such as bridges, highways, and railroads. The vehicles could provide a mobile base station from which ground robots or aerial drones could operate.
- Event coverage: News vans could deploy drones to provide aerial coverage of breaking news events or news-worthy situations.
- Military and police operations: Both drones and robots could be deployed from vehicles in large military or police operations for anything from surveillance to payload delivery.
Benefits of Cross Pollination
What does it matter to be at the centre of these three technologies?
At Area X.O, we find that working with various autonomous mobility engineering teams often highlights the commonality between them. A huge number of the lessons learned to build a successful product – skills, techniques, algorithms, workflows, testing methods, suppliers, materials – can be readily transferred from one area to another.
We’re a big believer in sharing: it helps everyone innovate, helps eliminate dead ends more quickly, and helps find novel and interesting solutions.
This knowledge transfer improves innovation – and it’s one of the reasons we’re bringing together people from so many areas of the mobility space to TCXpo and CAV Canada at the end of September. Follow the links to register!