Airborne Jetson TK1 Drones – GTC 2015

There were a couple of Jetson TK1 based airborne drones at the GPU Technology Conference 2015 in San Jose, California.

Parrot

An impressive demonstration was put on by the Parrot “Kalamos”. Looky here:

The video is a little dark and shaky due to the lighting conditions in the hall and, let’s say, operator ineptitude.

However, this does not hide the fact of how impressive the demonstration was. In the video, the drone scans the statue and the background and produces a 3D model that is displayed on an adjacent monitor. Here are some more pictures of the drone (click to enlarge):

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IMG_0493

The drone does realtime 3D scanning and reconstruction by computer vision. Notice the two cameras on the lower part of the airframe, beneath the Jetson. These cameras provide stereoscopic vision. Note that there is no GPS on the drone, obstacle detection and avoidance is done by computer vision alone.

To make things even more interesting, the ‘stereoscopic eyes’ reconstruct the environment as a 3D model down to 1 centimeter resolution! Consider the process for a moment. Two cameras are placed on a drone, and the drone builds a 3D scene. The drone is not a stable environment, it tends to jitter when it flies around even if it is just hovering. The onboard cameras, which are equipped with wide angle lenses, send their output to the Jetson where sophisticated computer vision algorithms translate this into a 3D scene by calculating depth and position in real time. Extremely impressive!

Transparent Sky

Transparent Sky stopped by the NVIDIA booth and showed off a prototype drone based on the Phantom DJI. Looky here:

Currently under development, the nicely integrated Jetson TK1 is used for a variety of image analysis tasks.

Conclusion

It is interesting to see how people are starting to use the computing capabilities of the Tegra K1 SoC for performing tasks (especially computer vision) aboard the aircraft. This is just the beginning, the first time that a powerful and reasonably priced SoC is being used as an imaging tool aboard small aircraft. As time passes and the Tegra SoC (with support packages) becomes smaller and more powerful, it will be interesting to see how those features will be leveraged into even more interesting features and applications.

Note: SoC stands for “System on a Chip”

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