Google’s NASA AI Drone Races Against Human Pilot

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Google’s artificial intelligence-powered drone is slower but steadier than a human pilot.

That was the lesson learned Oct. 12 after renowned drone pilot Ken Loo faced off against a drone created by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory funded by Google, according to BGR.

JPL created an obstacle course in its warehouse in Pasadena, California, according to a NASA press release, and pitted Loo against its drone to see how a human pilot would fare against an automated drone.

Loo completed the laps at an average of 11.1 seconds, while the AI-powered drone lagged behind at 13.9 second per lap. However, the drone’s flight pattern was smoother, anticipating and reacting to curves and obstacles more readily than Loo. In addition, Loo had inconsistent lap times, while the drone’s time was consistent.

Rob Reid, JPL engineer and project task manager for developing the AI-piloted drone, said humans fly more by feel, making their flight patterns jerkier and less consistent.

By contrast, the drones were fed algorithms to identify obstacles at high speeds and maneuver around them in flight.

There are still issues with the drone, Reid said – they can’t obtain a clear image at high speeds, for example – but the drones can fly up to 80 miles per hour in a straight line and up to 40 miles in an obstacle course. “One day you might see them racing professionally,” Reid said.

Loo’s flight included aerial tricks, and he adapted to the course over time, improving his speed as he went, according to NASA. But, he said, the path was complicated, calling it the “densest track” he’s ever flown on.

“One of my faults as a pilot is I get tired easily. When I get mentally fatigued, I start to get lost, even if I’ve flown the course 10 times,” Loo said, according to BGR.

Drones can be used to identify inventory in warehouses, locate people in a disaster and help scientists navigate space, according to CNBC.

Not everyone is excited about the development of drones powered by artificial intelligence. A popular video short that has circulated on the internet in recent weeks, called ‘Slaughterbots,’ depicts a nightmarish scenario in which AI drones begin targeting and killing thousands of civilians in a terrorist attack.

The video was created by the Campaign To Stop Killer Robots, according to Science Alert. The organization, dedicated to banning autonomous weapons, presented the short to the United Nations’ Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in an effort to persuade the international body to ban such technology from development.