Complex Aerodynamic Image
A drone flying through smoke to visualize the complex aerodynamic effects. (Image: Robotics and Perception Group, UZH)

For the first time an autonomously flying quadrotor has outperformed two human pilots in a drone race. The success is based on a novel algorithm that was developed by researchers of the University of Zurich. It calculates time-optimal trajectories that fully consider the drones’ limitations.

Because of a drone’s limited battery life, it must complete its task in the shortest possible time, often by going through waypoints like windows or rooms. Rather than assigning sections of the flight path to specific waypoints, the algorithm tells the drone to pass through all waypoints, but not how or when to do that.

Once the algorithm found the best trajectory, it can reproduce it faithfully many times, unlike human pilots.