How can you ensure that autonomous drone flights are safe in the future without first having to make mistakes in real life to learn from them? By simulating such drone flights. That is the premise of Project AirSim, a simulator for autonomous drone flights. The simulator is an initiative of Microsoft.
Train (automatic) pilot with Project AirSim
Soon, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is expected to play an important role in autopiloting drones. But how do you test the behavior of an autopilot in extreme conditions such as rain, wind, or snow? How do you determine the exact influence of wind on flight time? Can a drone make good recordings for inspections on a foggy day?
Project AirSim should provide the answers to these and other questions. The idea is that computer models of drones can perform the same flight millions of times in a short time, but each time under slightly different conditions. This way, the AI autopilot can be trained to act in deviant situations. But human pilots can also practice performing certain missions.
To make the simulations as realistic as possible, Project AirSim users can choose from numerous 3D worlds, such as various rural and urban environments. This way, various applications such as drone delivery, infrastructure inspections, and Urban Air Mobility can be trained. Every phase of the flight can be simulated, from take-off to flight operation and landing again.
Loading existing environments from Bing Maps and other data providers is also possible. For example, developers can conduct virtual training flights in existing cities. General test environments, such as airports, are also available. Microsoft is also working on importing realistic weather data, including how sensors would process it in the real world.
“Autonomous systems will transform many industries and enable many aerial scenarios, from the last-mile delivery of goods in crowded cities to the inspection of downed power lines 1,000 miles away. But first, we need to safely train these systems in a realistic, virtual world,” said Gurdeep Pall, Microsoft corporate vice president for Business Incubations in Technology & Research.
Project AirSim may even be used by aviation authorities when certifying autonomous systems. For example, a virtual version of an unmanned aircraft could be tested to perform a flight in extreme weather conditions or with a loss of GPS. If that works every time, it could help in issuing a certification.
Currently, Project AirSim is available as a limited test environment, running on the Azure cloud platform. Interested parties can contact Microsoft to discuss the possibilities.
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