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Old Sep 03, 2008, 02:15 PM
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flieslikeabeagle's Avatar
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Autonomous fully aerobatic RC helicopters!

I've been saying for a few years that it would not be long before someone started selling RC planes that were fully autonomous - the "pilot" will only have to push a button or two and the model will take off, perform aerobatics, and land itself. Rather like those toy guitars that play a complex guitar lick at the push of a button, requiring no skill at all on the part of the "guitarist".

Well, we're one step closer to this happening: Stanford researchers have demonstrated a fully autonomous 3D helicopter that is not only able to perform complex aerobatics like tic-toc's, but also able to learn new moves by "watching" another helicopter flown by a human pilot.

Apparently the autonomous helicopter is already flying better than the very talented human pilot. Here's a quote:
Quote:
...the researchers had Oku and other pilots fly entire airshow routines while every movement of the helicopter was recorded. As Oku repeated a maneuver several times, the trajectory of the helicopter inevitably varied slightly with each flight. But the learning algorithms created by Ng's team were able to discern the ideal trajectory the pilot was seeking. Thus the autonomous helicopter learned to fly the routine better—and more consistently—than Oku himself.
Here's the story:
http://news-service.stanford.edu/new...er-091008.html

-Flieslikeabeagle
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Old Sep 03, 2008, 02:21 PM
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eflightray's Avatar
South Wales U.K.
Joined Mar 2003
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It brings a new meaning to RTF.

I'll stick with building and flying.
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Old Sep 03, 2008, 02:45 PM
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Machines have been outperforming humans for years, this is just another realm they've invaded. I for one enjoy seeing such stories, because behind it is another story of human achievement. Remember, without humans, they are nothing...

Now when the day comes that that changes, I will probably not like machines anymore!
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Old Sep 03, 2008, 03:54 PM
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I foresee the reign of the terminator!!!
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Old Sep 03, 2008, 04:25 PM
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flieslikeabeagle's Avatar
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Quote:
Originally Posted by habitforming
Machines have been outperforming humans for years, this is just another realm they've invaded. I for one enjoy seeing such stories
I agree, and I do find it interesting seeing what is coming down the pike - it's quite fascinating what the combination of powerful, cheap, microcontrollers and cheap sensors is making possible.

There is also the human side, of course. When RC planes are easily made fully autonomous - which will probably happen within a decade or less - what happens to, say, pattern aerobatic competitions? Do we care if a robotic aeroplane flies a perfect routine? Do we care about a very talented human pilot if robots routinely outperform him? Will we allow autonomous RC planes and helicopters to win at aerobatics competitions?

One thing I can safely predict is that when the fully autonomous models drop below roughly the $100 mark, a lot of people will buy them and head out to whatever open space remains to fly them. As eflightray said, it will bring new meaning to the term "RTF" - no piloting skills will be required, just like most other toys. On the plus side, millions of people will get to enjoy these flying toys. On the minus side, those of us who struggled to learn to fly RC the old-fashioned way will have our egos a little hurt when the autonomous toy beats our best efforts.

I remember reading that some years ago one of the Formula One teams - it might have been Ferrari - developed cars that had autonomous gearboxes that shifted for themselves with the aid of pre-programmed information about that specific race track. The autonomous gearboxes were able to outperform the best human drivers.

Not surprisingly, the sanctioning body governing the sport outlawed them immediately.
Quote:
Originally Posted by habitforming
Remember, without humans, they are nothing...
Now when the day comes that that changes, I will probably not like machines anymore!
Yeah, that will be a major turning point, for sure, and no doubt it is coming. Did you know a research group was able to simulate half a mouse brain - in software - on a supercomputer? This was a year or two ago, with Moore's law at work they'll probably be simulating a mouse brain in a microcontroller within a few more years. Real mice are pretty autonomous, and a robot with mouse-level smarts might not need humans a whole lot either...if someone can figure out a power source for the robot as good as grains and insects are for the mouse!

-Flieslikeabeagle
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Old Sep 03, 2008, 04:34 PM
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I can see it now...
Buy the Align Trex Autonom helicopter, and then "buy" the upgrade packs to teach it new tricks. Upgrade packs only $39.99
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Old Sep 03, 2008, 05:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryan Davison
I can see it now...
Buy the Align Trex Autonom helicopter, and then "buy" the upgrade packs to teach it new tricks. Upgrade packs only $39.99
It seems to be working for Knife Edge Software (creators of the RealFlight RC sim, owned by Jim Bourke, who is also the benevolent dictator/owner of RC Groups...)

-Flieslikeabeagle
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Old Sep 03, 2008, 06:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by flieslikeabeagle
I remember reading that some years ago one of the Formula One teams - it might have been Ferrari - developed cars that had autonomous gearboxes that shifted for themselves with the aid of pre-programmed information about that specific race track. The autonomous gearboxes were able to outperform the best human drivers.

Not surprisingly, the sanctioning body governing the sport outlawed them immediately.
Would you be surprised to learn that this technology existed 15 years ago and was in use my teams like Benetton (Renault now) and Williams. It actually went beyond gearbox control, the system would preselect the correct gear depending on where you were on the track, but it would also adjust the differential, lower/raise/soften and stiffen the suspension corner to corner.

All this in the early to mid 1990's
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Old Sep 03, 2008, 06:18 PM
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flies - that's too funny, as I was reading your post about "do we let robots in the competition" I was actually thinking to bring up Formula1, and then lo and behold, you beat me to it!

I would say there might be a season's lag where the technology catches the sanctioning body off guard, but we humans do have the pleasure of telling the machines "you're not welcome in this competition".

I hadn't seen anything about the simulated mouse brain cells, that's highly interesting. The first true step, you might say. I do remember seeing a program where some university had managed to use a sample of brain (pig maybe) to interact with software. Basically, it guided a 'thing' around a room, avoiding obstacles (after some training, of course). That I thought was rather incredible, but is quite the opposite from what you describe.

Sythetic life... will be interesting to see it's advent... Sounds like I stand a chance at being around long enough to see it.
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Old Sep 04, 2008, 12:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by habitforming
I hadn't seen anything about the simulated mouse brain cells, that's highly interesting. The first true step, you might say.
I thought it was a fascinating milestone, too. Here are a couple of links to stories about this (from early 2007):
http://www.voodish.co.uk/articles/mo...d-on-computer/
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6600965.stm
http://www.cognitie.nl/news/mouse-br...ed-on-computer
Quote:
Originally Posted by habitforming
I do remember seeing a program where some university had managed to use a sample of brain (pig maybe) to interact with software.
Yeah, that was a weird one too. About four years ago I heard about the first experiments along this line - a researcher named Thomas DeMarse had taught roughly 10,000 rat brain cells in a petri dish to "fly" an aircraft in a simulator program, controlling it and responding to it via voltages applied to tiny gold electrodes in the petri dish:
http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn6573
http://dsc.discovery.com/news/briefs...018/brain.html

That was the start of it, but a month ago (Aug 2008) I saw this (perhaps the same thing you referred to?):
http://technology.newscientist.com/c...ed-robots.html
Quote:
Originally Posted by habitforming
Sythetic life... will be interesting to see it's advent... Sounds like I stand a chance at being around long enough to see it.
Synthetic life...people are going at it in at least two directions, one being the
attempt to make something robotic smart enough to have the characteristics of a living thing (so the philosophers can start arguing about what "life" means ), and the other being the attempt to create man-made life using DNA and traditional biology, as Craig Venter's group is doing:
http://www.wired.com/science/discove...nthetic_genome

I think a lot of this stuff is going to show up a lot sooner than most people expect. I expect our world is going to be pretty different in ten years...both the natural world (climate change, pollution, etc) and our man-made technological world. Heck, the amount of change in the last ten years is amazing - today I can buy a chewing-gum sized USB drive that has four times as much capacity as the 2-gig hard drive I bought back in 1999 for my shiny second-hand Pentium 200 MHz PC, my wife and I bought a $80 robot that vacuums our tiny hallway and wood floors, and nobody thinks it's a miracle to be able to play music from a device with no moving parts any more...

These are exciting times!

-Flieslikeabeagle
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Old Sep 04, 2008, 12:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Radweld
Would you be surprised to learn that this technology existed 15 years ago and was in use my teams like Benetton (Renault now) and Williams.
<snip>
All this in the early to mid 1990's
Thanks, I must be getting old, I thought it was much more recent than that - I remember reading about this in either Autoweek or Car & Driver some years ago, but I had no idea it was 15+ years ago. Then again, it's a shock to realize I got my Bachelors degree 22 years ago now!

-Flieslikeabeagle
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Old Sep 04, 2008, 05:11 PM
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fly4fun's Avatar
Gilbert AZ
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The day a computer flys my airplane without me touching the sticks will be day I quite this hobby.
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Old Sep 04, 2008, 05:58 PM
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United States, AZ, Mesa
Joined Jul 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fly4fun
The day a computer flys my airplane without me touching the sticks will be day I quite this hobby.
I used to kinda feel that way about auto-pilot, but it's all in the attitude you take towards it. You can think about what the system is taking away from you, but I prefer to focus on what it gives you. Auto-pilot takes over the mundane task of keeping the plane level and on-course, so the pilot can tackle more important things like trying to navigate around weather, communications tasks, and personal biological needs. The robot gives you the time to do things that robots can't do. Our helicopters are already half robotic anyway - the task of holding the tail has been removed and we are no longer flying the tail directly on most helicopters - we are flying by wire, and the gyro is making the final decisions. As long as it works right this doesn't bother me.

I'm not particularly surprised that this is possible, and I'm even less surprised that it's coming out of Stanford, where they did the exact same thing with a car 2 years ago and won 2 million bucks. Doing it with a helicopter is just graduate students trying to keep life interesting - it is much less practical than the auto-driving car project.
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Old Sep 04, 2008, 06:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fly4fun
The day a computer flys my airplane without me touching the sticks will be day I quite this hobby.
I don't think that will happen, at least for a while, unless you choose to install the computer yourself. So you should be able to keep flying under your own control for a while.

But eventually, I figure our increasingly paranoid government will want to make sure that RC planes are under their control. Just as they forced all cellphone manufacturers to put GPS chips in our cellphones a few years ago so they can track our movements, they will likely at some point make it a requirement that every flying model beyond some minimum size must have a computer on it with some "safety features" that will limit the height you can fly to, the distance you can go from your transmitter, the maximum speed of the model, etc, etc. At that point you either install the government-mandated computer, or become an outlaw, subject to prosecution by the authorities.

I am curious as to when it will become illegal to drive your own car. Not too far into the future, we can safely predict that all cars will have the ability to drive themselves. Some time after that it will become illegal to drive a car with manual controls...you either let the computer do the driving, or stop using your car altogether.

This is speculation, of course, but I'll be very surprised if it doesn't happen, and quite likely within the next two decades. If I were a young person today, I would not decide to take up truck-driving or cab-driving for a profession - it will likely go the way of the family coachman and the village shoemaker.

-Flieslikeabeagle
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Old Sep 04, 2008, 06:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jasmine2501
I used to kinda feel that way about auto-pilot, but it's all in the attitude you take towards it. You can think about what the system is taking away from you, but I prefer to focus on what it gives you. Auto-pilot takes over the mundane task of keeping the plane level and on-course, so the pilot can tackle more important things like trying to navigate around weather, communications tasks, and personal biological needs. The robot gives you the time to do things that robots can't do. Our helicopters are already half robotic anyway - the task of holding the tail has been removed and we are no longer flying the tail directly on most helicopters - we are flying by wire, and the gyro is making the final decisions. As long as it works right this doesn't bother me.

I'm not particularly surprised that this is possible, and I'm even less surprised that it's coming out of Stanford, where they did the exact same thing with a car 2 years ago and won 2 million bucks. Doing it with a helicopter is just graduate students trying to keep life interesting - it is much less practical than the auto-driving car project.
This is a hobby and Im not talking full scale here.

I'm a IT professional and I have enough computers at work to do certain task for me and having computers take the joy of RC flying will be the end for me.
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