To develop a vision-guided robot helicopter which can autonomously carry out the following goal mission in any weather conditions and using only on-board intelligence and computing power.

Goal Mission:

  • Automatically start operation and takeoff.
  • Fly to a designated area on a prescribed path while avoiding obstacles.
  • Search and locate object of interest in the designated area.
  • Visually lock on to and track or, if necessary, pursue the objects.
  • Send back images to a ground station while tracking the objects.
  • Safely return home and land.

This goal mission capability encapsulates a number of crucial technologies which are applicable to search and rescue, surveillance, law enforcement, inspection, mapping, and aerial cinematography

Goal Mission Applications
Search & Rescue

  • Vision-guided robot helicopters can quickly and systematically search a very large area to locate victims of an accident or a natural disaster. They can then visually lock on to objects at the site or stranded victims to guide rescue forces to the scene.
  • They can help focus the efforts of search and rescue crews to the rescue operation instead of the time consuming search operation.
  • They can be more readily deployed in weather conditions which would normally prevent human piloted search and rescue.
  • They can be sacrificed in very dangerous conditions to save human lives. Prime examples include flying close to a forest fire to look for stranded individuals, searching in contaminated areas, and identifying potential radioactive leaks after a nuclear reactor accident.

  • Vision-guided robot helicopters can patrol an area and report interesting or unusual activity. They can perform a variety of surveillance operations ranging from around-the-clock border patrolling to looking over the hill for potential danger on the battle field.
  • They can keep watch on an area non-stop by automatically landing and refueling from ground stations in or near the area.
  • They can automatically locate and identify suspicious activity and visually lock-on to objects or persons involved until ground forces arrive.

Law Enforcement
  • Vision-guided robot helicopters can fly overhead to aid the police in dangerous high-speed chases or criminal search operations.
  • Stationed on top of buildings in urban areas, they can be dispatched in seconds to takeoff and relay images from trouble spots. This real time imagery is crucial to the tactical assessment of the situation by human experts who dispatch police units to the area.

  • Vision-guided robot helicopters can inspect high voltage electrical lines in remote locations.
  • They can inspect large structures such as bridges and dams cost effectively.
  • They can be quickly called upon to inspect buildings and roads for potential damage after an earthquake.
  • They can locate hazardous materials in waste sites by providing aerial imagery to human experts or by automatically identifying waste containers or materials by on-board vision.

Aerial Mapping
  • Vision-guided robot helicopters can build more accurate topological maps than conventional aircraft at a substantial cost savings.
  • Unlike airplanes, they can fly close to the ground while carrying cameras or range sensors to build high resolution 3D maps.
  • They can fly in smaller and more constrained areas to build highly detailed elevation maps.

  • Vision-guided robot helicopters can be a director's eye-in-the-sky camera.
  • They can fly precisely under computer control which eliminates the need for skilled human pilots for aerial photography.
  • They can automatically track subjects with their on-board vision-based object trackers.
  • They can fly a prescribed path over and over again to help plan shots or to aid in producing special effects.

© 1998 Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute
Computer generated images and movies by Arnold Animation