The crazyflies. Source: TU Delft/ MAVLabThe crazyflies. Source: TU Delft/ MAVLabEngineers from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands have developed an algorithm that enables small swarming autonomous drones to work in unison to explore previously unexplored indoor environments.

The swarm gradient bug algorithm (SGBA), otherwise known as the “bug algorithm,” enables miniature swarming drones, aptly called crazyflies, to carry out swarming operations that one larger drone could not. The algorithm allows the crazyflies, which weigh about 30 grams each, to take flight without internal mapping systems. Instead the drones rely on ongoing motion detection, following the contours of walls in search of openings and avoiding obstacles in their path. After navigating previously unfamiliar indoor settings, the drones can return to their initial departure location.

To demonstrate their swarming abilities, the crazyflies, each outfitted with cameras and a microprocessor, were deployed in an office setting and tasked with locating two mannequins to replicate a search and rescue mission scenario. In roughly six minutes, the swarm explored approximately 80% of the office setting — an impossible feat for just one large drone operating alone.

The team of Delft University engineers believes that the swarming drones could eventually be used for a variety of applications such as conducting surveillance or search and rescue missions, tracking warehouse stock and monitoring agriculture to name just a few.

The research appears in the journal Science Robotics.

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