CSAIL Gets $7.5M To Develop Bird-Like UAV

MIT's CSAIL (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) has been given a $7.5 million dollar grant by the U.S. Office of Naval Research to develop a robotic bird.

The multidisciplinary university research initiative (MURI) led by CSAIL Associate Professor Russ Tedrake will bring together a diverse group of researchers to develop a UAV capable of navigating both urban and forest environments using vision-based control.

“UAVs are currently not reaching their full flying potential,” said Tedrake. “They’re flying conservatively, like large planes. We want to create a UAV that can fly through a crowded environment and fly well despite complicated air flow.”

The MURI brings together seven principal investigators working in the fields of biology, machine vision, planning and control and UAVs, led by Tedrake. Team members include: Emilio Frazzoli (MIT), William Freeman (MIT), J. Andrew Bagnell (CMU), Andrew Biewener (Harvard), Martial Hebert (CMU), Yann LeCun (NYU) and David Lentink (Wageningen University).

Researchers are aiming to develop a UAV with a 24” wingspan, capable of flying between 5 and 15 meters per second, navigating dense urban and natural environments and perching like a bird. The project will draw from Tedrake’s work with both fixed and flap-winged UAVs, and with perching gliders.

“The control tools developed in the Robot Locomotion Group are well-suited to this problem, and will showcase the types of control design we do here,” said Tedrake.

The UAV, which will be modeled, in part, on the results of extensive study into bird flight, will be a wingeron plane, meaning that the plane’s wings will be able to rotate fully for maximum maneuverability.

Researchers at CSAIL will be focused on building the actual planes and designing the machine’s control system, which will utilize Freeman’s work with image deblurring, allowing the plane’s vision-based control system to distinguish obstacles and targets while traveling at high speeds.

SF readers have been anticipating these devices for decades; compare the description provided above with Little Bird from Greg Bear's 2003 novel Darwin's Children and the tracer bird from Roger Zelazny's 1980 novel Changeling.


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