Drones, or unmanned vehicles that fly through the air, are used by civilians and the military alike. While the military uses drones to get to areas that are too difficult or risky for humans, commercially drones are used for photography, research, and even racing.

According to Gartner, a research firm, drone sales grew 60% from 2016 to 2017 to $2.2 million, with revenue up 36% to almost $4.5 billion. With estimates of U.S. drone sales doubling year over year, millions of hobbyist drones are now in homes. Per year, sales of drones are clocking in around $200 million, and an average drone from DJI, the leading commercial drone manufacturer, is between $500 to $1,000.

Drones are essential to many fields, such as businesses, the government, and certain industries, like agriculture. Important fields with promising drone-usage include: Express delivery (think Amazon) Supplying necessities in disaster zones Search and Rescue (thermal sensor drones) Mapping of inaccessible terrains Crops (monitoring, delivery of resources, etc) Law enforcement, like border patrol With so much money being spent on the development of drones, testing their safety, abilities, and durability are paramount to the industry’s success.

After all, with a $500+ price tag, replacing them isn’t cheap. Due to the cost of repairing and replacing drones, a better way to train autonomous drones was needed. That’s where MIT comes in – with a VR training system named “Flight Goggles.” The VR environment creates indoor obstacles for the drones to fly around, without actually needing to have those obstacles be indoors – the testing facility can remain empty, while the drone sees “real” obstacles. Additional benefits of “Flight Goggles” are endless, as virtual testing facilities in which any environment or condition can be subbed in for the drones to train.  “We think this is a game-changer in the development of drone technology, for drones that go fast,” Associate Professor Sertac Karaman said in an MIT blog post.

“If anything, the system can make autonomous vehicles more responsive, faster, and more efficient.” Currently, if a researcher wants to fly an autonomous drone, they must set up in a large testing facility in which physical obstacles, like doors and windows, must be brought in, as well as large nets to catch falling drones. When they do crash (and they do) the cost of the project and the development timeline both increase, due to repairs and replacements. Read more from bigthink.com…

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