Robot Helicopters Learn By Watching Experts

Robot helicopters learn to fly by watching expert radio control pilots. Stanford computer scientists Andrew Ng, Peter Abbeel and Adam Coates have developed an artificial intelligence system that teaches itself to fly radio-controlled (RC) helicopters.


(Autonomous robot helicopters learn by watching expert pilots)

On a recent morning in an empty field at the edge of campus, Abbeel and Coates sent up one of their helicopters to demonstrate autonomous flight. The aircraft, brightly painted Stanford red, is an off-the-shelf radio control helicopter, with instrumentation added by the researchers.

For five minutes, the chopper, on its own, ran through a dizzying series of stunts beyond the capabilities of a full-scale piloted helicopter and other autonomous remote control helicopters. The artificial-intelligence helicopter performed a smorgasbord of difficult maneuvers: traveling flips, rolls, loops with pirouettes, stall-turns with pirouettes, a knife-edge, an Immelmann, a slapper, an inverted tail slide and a hurricane, described as a "fast backward funnel."

The pièce de résistance may have been the "tic toc," in which the helicopter, while pointed straight up, hovers with a side-to-side motion as if it were the pendulum of an upside down clock.

Helicopters are notoriously difficult to fly with computers; helicopters are described as "unstable systems that require constant input". The Stanford computer scientists started by recording airshow routines by the best of radio remote control pilots. The position, direction, orientation, velocity, acceleration and spin of the helicopter in several dimensions was recorded. Then, each routine was repeated; the learning algorithms were able to discern the ideal trajectory that the human pilot was seeking.

Later, the autonomous robot helicopter was able fly on its own. The current package, which separates the computer from the RC helicopter, could be an all-in-one package on a full-size helicopter.

From Stanford's "autonomous" helicopters teach themselves to fly via The Raw Feed.

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