Over the past few years, researchers have been attempting to shrink drone technology, including their cameras and sensors. The problem, however, is shrinking the computer chip.
The computer chip in a drone is equivalent to the human brain, it controls everything that goes on in the drone all at once. Scientists, moreover, have not figured out how to miniaturize these vital component whereas they have already figured out how to shrink every other part.
Typically, computer chips for drones use between 10 and 30 Watts of power which is supplied by batteries which would weigh down a mini drone. The drone needs this many Watts due to the large amount of data that is constantly streaming to the chip from the camera and sensors and this data also helps the chip to regulate drone speed, trajectory and so on. Researchers have already started to create a new design of the chip which they call, “Navion.” Supposedly,the chip uses a fraction of the power used in tradition chips for quadcopters and similar drones. In order to use less power, the chip needed a new low power algorithm to ensure that the chip only takes in the Wattage that it needs.
Traditionally, algorithms and hardware are made separately with the hardware being created to accommodate the algorithms and software. But Sertac Karaman, the lead scientist of the team, decided that they could maximize power savings by having the hardware and algorithms made at the same time. The benefit of this could be that the two departments could work together so the hardware personnel could tell the algorithm personnel what could minimize power usage in order to collaborate. Thus the hardware personnel are not just quietly following those who create algorithms and software.
The new chip processes images at an amazing 20 frames per second and is able to control the drone’s orientation. What’s even better is the chip can run at only 2 Watts.
What could be the benefit of a mini drone anyway? Image a hostage situation. The police need to get eyes on the situation but it’s too risky to let anybody go in. A regular drone would attract too much attention but what other alternative is there - a mini drone. Ideally, the drone would be the size of a bottlecap but it still has cameras and sensors that would allow the authorities to assess the situation. With this, the police could track the position of every person in the building so they could expect who would be around every corner. A perfect solution.
The lead scientists are also hoping for the drone to help in disaster relief. The drone could potentially fit in small spaces to find trapped people. They also hope to have the tiny technology available for the general public just as normal quadcopters are available for consumer use.
The team has also started to input sync technology in the drones so that they can be hooked up to a computer or a phone. They also are trying to get the power usage down to a few milliwatts which would allow for more memory storage and other potential miscellaneous functions.