Researchers from the Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed an echolocation system that enables tiny drones to self-navigate.

Taking inspiration from bats and other animals that rely on echolocation to navigate, the researchers outfitted an off-the-shelf small robot drone from CrazyFlie with audio hardware — including speakers and a mic — small enough so that the palm-sized drone doesn’t include bulky equipment or heavy machinery.

Source: CrazyFlieSource: CrazyFlie

To mimic bat echolocation, the drone emitted sounds across frequencies that the robot's microphone picked up as they bounced off of the walls within the room where the drone was tested. The team then used an algorithm to analyze those sound waves and subsequently created a map featuring the room's dimensions.

The EPFL team is eyeing the technology to aid in search and rescue missions or to access hard-to-reach locations.

An article detailing the system, Blind as a Bat: Audible Echolocation on Small Robots, appears in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters.

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