From the pyramids to the poles, makers all around the world are pushing the envelope with drones and remote-operated vehicles.
A fleet of Komatsu 930E autonomous dump trucks automates mine haulage at the Gabriela Mistral copper mine. The house-sized, diesel-electric behemoths can be programmed from a remote command center to run set paths, avoid obstacles, and recognize other automated vehicles.
BARDIA NATIONAL PARK, NEPAL
The World Wildlife Fund helps train 19 park rangers and Nepal Army soldiers to fly GPS-enabled FPV Raptor UAVs to track poachers in Nepal’s national parks.
The drones can fly over tough terrain and give patrols a safe view of poachers, who are often heavily armed.
HALL CITY CAVE, CALIFORNIA
Eric Stackpole and David Lang use the OpenROV submarine to explore an underwater cavern rumored to contain sunken bandit gold. The open-source design was spearheaded by Stackpole and Lang, and developed in part by the 1,000-strong online community at openrov.org.
THE NORTH ATLANTIC
A team of seven engineering students launches Scout, a 12-foot-long autonomous boat, to traverse the Atlantic from Rhode Island to Spain. The boat launched in August 2013, but went offline a month later. It had traveled 1,300 miles — about a third of the way across.
A NASA-funded team from Carnegie Mellon deploys Nomad, a wheeled rover that automatically combs the frozen ice, detects unusual surface features, and tests them to see if they are meteorites.
PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
Brown University Associate Professor Chad Jenkins leads a team to develop a quadrotor-based telepresence system for quadriplegic Henry Evans. Evans controls the drone using small movements of his head, and uses the onboard camera to explore his surroundings through first-person-view (FPV) flight.
Archeologists use a series of drones to explore narrow air shafts connecting the Queen’s Chamber to other parts of the Great Pyramid. The most recent drone, the University of Leeds’ Djedi, found new markings in a small chamber at the end of one shaft.
Avant-garde dance troupe Pilobolus uses quadrotors to perform “Seraph.” During the 10-minute piece, a single performer dances with two LED-adorned drones by Germany’s Ascending Technologies, programmed and piloted by students from MIT.
THE SWISS ALPS
Swiss robotics company SenseFly uses fixed-wing aerial drones to create a high-resolution 3D model of the Matterhorn. The team launched the drones from the summit and a second position on the north face and mapped 2,800 hectacres during 11 flights with an average precision of 20cm.
Textbook rental company Zookal partners with startup Flirtey to deploy a fleet of six multirotor drones to deliver books to students around Sydney. If approved, Australia would be the first country to allow commercial drone deliveries.