A Vienna University of Technology student is using an Android mobile device as the brain of a homemade drone capable of flight without GPS or remote control.
Annette Mossel’s SmartCopter can successfully navigate indoor enclosed spaces based purely on the processing power of its Android computer. The Android operating system allows for easier software updates.
The SmartCopter could pave the way to cheap autonomous drones capable of scouting disaster scenes without risking human lives, inspecting walls and ceilings, or even navigating people through shopping malls. It’s also significantly cheaper than its counterparts in research and development.
“We wanted to keep the costs low and build our copter based on open hardware approaches,” Mossel said in an MIT Technology Review report Thursday.
Mossel’s SmartCopter uses a Samsung Galaxy SII, four small motors and a microcontroller, and cost about $412 to build, minus the cost of the phone, which can vary.
Since GPS doesn’t work well indoors and is only accurate to about roughly 26 feet, Mossel’s team put an app on the drone’s Android brain that uses the phone’s accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer to create its own map of a given space in real-time with tangible location markers.
The team is continuing to hone the drone’s navigation system to eventually recognize different elevations and corners to map its location without needing markers.
They have ample time — the Federal Aviation Administration has only recently announced a five-year plan to implement wider commercial domestic drone use in U.S. airspace, which is still currently illegal without special federal permission.