'Vision-based navigation is just like in humans': Calgary professor developing new drone technology


The future of autonomous flight is certainly looking up for one University of Calgary researcher, nearing completion on what’s expected to be the next generation in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology.

Dr. Mozhdeh Shahbazi, professor of geomatics engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering, has made developing a safe and workable UAV platform — one that operates autonomously without reliance on GPS — the focus of her academic career.

Shahbazi’s ambition is to create flying machines free from the constraints of GPS, which must ‘see’ satellites in the sky to fix their location on Earth.

“When you go to cavernous areas of downtown, for example, with its highrise buildings, or when you go to forests when you’re surrounded by trees, then you completely lose the GPS signal,” she said.

In other words, when that GPS fix is lost — so goes the craft’s ability to navigate.

Instead, visual sensors and on-board processors allow her drones to not only form a complete awareness of their surroundings, but also interact with their environment intelligently.“Vision-based navigation is just like in humans,” she explains.

“The way we position and navigate ourselves is that we can see the environment, or even touch it.”

Shahbazi’s system works in the same way, learning from its environment and knowing the difference between an open door and a closed one.

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