New app transforms iPhone into remote-controller for military spy bot...
Former F-18 Hornet Navy Pilot and MIT Professor, Missy Cummings, and her team of 30 students and undergrads, have developed an iPhone app able to control an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) or military drone.
The aim of the teams work at MIT’s Humans and Automation Lab (HAL), is to improve the
unwieldy interactions between machines and their human controllers. In this instance, it was the complex suitcase-sized controller of the Raven UAV that was to be modified.
Recalling the bulky and somewhat confusing interface soldiers must lug around to remote-control the Raven UAV, Cummings decided it was time for something simpler. And what could be more appropriate in this day and age? An iPhone.
Cummings says it was actually her undergraduates idea to use the iPhone – perhaps because experimenting meant she would have to buy all of the team their own iPhone – nevertheless, it took just a month and a half to develop a real working prototype.
“We had the idea in June. Within six weeks, we went from the idea to a real flight test,”
The iPhone app works by sending GPS coordinates to the drone, which navigates on its own using the Ravens ‘sense and avoid’ capabilities. During flight the robot can stream video or send snapshots back to the iPhone
“Our philosophy of control in my lab is humans should never do tele-operating,” Cummings said. In other words, no steering:
“Humans have important jobs they need to do, and should not worry about low-level housekeeping, telling a UAV to go from point to point. UAVs are smart, and can do that on their own these days.” The kind of (somewhat-detached) relationship she has in mind is called “supervisory control.”
The total cost of the set up was around $5,000 for a new commercially available, quad-rotor drone – plus the cost of the iPhones for her crew.