Obstacle avoidance is the next big step for drones

Gigaom

Consumer drones have come a long way in just a few years, evolving from complex hobbyist models to consumer-ready quadcopters with increasingly smart cameras and controls. But they are still unable to autonomously avoid obstacles — an ability that would completely change the flying experience and make drone-based services much, much safer.

That is slowly changing through startups like DroneDeployAirware and Panoptes, and now Ascending Technologies, which made a big splash at this year’s CES.

A worker demonstrates the collision avoidance capability of an AscTec Firefly multi-copter drone with Intel RealSense cameras at CES on January 6, 2015. A worker demonstrates the collision avoidance capability of an AscTec Firefly multi-copter drone with Intel RealSense cameras at CES on January 6, 2015.

AscTec, which makes professional-level drones, will begin shipping its “Firefly” drone with obstacle-detecting sensors later this year. It incorporate’s IBM’s RealSense 3D cameras, which Wired reported are smaller and lighter than other options.

Five years ago, it would have been impossible to build a setup like AscTec’s. Moderately sized drones are limited…

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