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Unmanned Helicopter Flies Low, Dodges Obstacles With 3D Laser Camera

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Click to viewEngineers at Carnegie Mellon University have paired a 3D laser camera system, capable of mapping out terrain and obstacles in real time, with an unmanned Yamaha helicopter, creating an autonomous, incredibly low-flying UAV. Once loaded with preexisting topographical data, the sighted UAV is able to hug the ground at altitudes of 5m, fly around obstacles with just 3m of clearance and sense oncoming obstructions as small as 6mm. Though the ability to hover at extremely low altitudes has some obvious military applications, the fact that drones may now be able to dodge unanticipated barriers could help UAVs fly in civilian airspace, something which regulatory authorities in this country don't traditionally allow unless they have a reasonable guarantee against the surprise pulping of unsuspecting bystanders. [NewScientist]