New software allows small drones to create precise 3D maps of the world in real time from a normal video camera, thanks to the power of graphics processors. The software, developed by Lockheed Martin, uses a standard laptop with a Nvdia processor, take advantage of the impressive image-processing capabilities of modern GPUs. In a test, a drone fling at 30 knots was able to produce maps at one foot per pixel literally on the fly. Existing systems take hours of processing to produce this type of 3D terrain model.
Read more about it in my piece for New Scientist here.
This is an important new capability as it will enable ‘simultaneous location and mapping’ (or SLAM) in real-time. A drone will be able to make a map of its surroundings as it goes — this may include outdoors, or inside buildings or tunnel complexes. It removes dependence of GPS or other external location systems, so navigation cannot be jammed and the drone can operate in urban canyons and other areas where GPS is unreliable.