Autonomy is big news these days. We are seeing many different technology and automobile companies pushing ahead with new technologies to make cars aware of their surroundings and be able to drive themselves, and passengers, without human intervention. Whilst there are still technological, political and legal minefields for the developers of these self-driving technologies to go through, when it comes to autonomous drone technology, the challenges are broadly similar in that there are technological, political and legal difficulties. We have now seen one of Google's internal projects designed to make drones effectively autonomous, which in itself is nothing new. However, it's how Google used two cameras and a computer to create what is known as Project Blackrock.
Project Blackrock is an unannounced project and we cannot be certain if it continues on as its own Project, or if it has been amalgamated within Project Wing. We understand that Google tests many new Projects every year and some become big names in the technology industry (to namedrop, consider Project Glass, Project Loon and Project Fi). The technology itself is an interesting take on the difficulty of making drones autonomous: rather than load the individual drones up with expensive sensors, the technology uses the two cameras to identify and track individual drones. An unknown Google employee said: "We start with a pair of cameras just looking out into the air, and then you put a quadcopter in, and the two cameras try to identify the quadcopter and track it. That information gets fed into a computer, and it tells the quadcopter where it should be going based on where it is." The advantage of the Project Blackrock approach is that the drones themselves may be inexpensive and relatively unsophisticated, whereas the control technology is the clever side of the control equation.
Project Blackrock is a modest example of Google's experimentation with new technologies or alternative ways to solve problems with different advantages to the established way of doing things. There are likely dozens of similar experimental projects that have taken and likely continue to take place: Google encourages employees to devote a proportion of their time into interesting side projects such as Project Blackrock. Some of these are likely to be forgotten about whereas others may evolve into a headline moonshoot project. For more information, check out the YouTube clip embedded below.