Earlier this month, the very first fully-autonomous, full-sized helicopter did something very ordinary in a very extraordinary way: It took off, flew for a little while, and landed, all without the help of a human in any way.
The Unmanned Little Bird, a single-turbine Boeing-modified MD530F helicopter, is one very unusual chopper. Built by an Army-funded team of Carnegie Mellon researchers and the Piasecki Aircraft corporation, it works in the same way some unmanned SUVs work, by scanning the surrounding area and adjusting its movement accordingly. It does this by using a LIDAR laser system, which scans the ground to determine geography, and sends that data to an on-board computer for processing and resulting action.
The helicopter actually creates a 3D map of its surroundings, which was demonstrated as the vehicle successfully navigated around a tall tower, and later chose to land safely on the ground instead of following geographic instructions and landing on a moving car.
The chopper could be tremendously useful in military applications, sent out to find suitable landing spots or even to fight our battles for us. It's a pretty amazing innovation--check out the video below for a demonstration.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com