Dutch startup uses AI to teach drone to fly fully autonomously

08-06-2023 | |
Photo: MRR drones
Photo: MRR drones

What started as a student project has now grown into a real company. Sieuwe Elferink points to a drone in a corner of the study. Someone came along who wanted to buy the drone from the students. “I was stunned. Didn’t that buyer see how that thing was put together with duct tape? We then conducted extensive research: can we turn our project into a company?’ It was the beginning of MultiRotorResearch (MRR).

The startup of which Elferink is the founder is working on a drone that can find its way thanks to artificial intelligence (AI). They buy the device itself, the crux is what MRR adds to it: smart software that knows where the drone has to go and can calculate the best way to get there. A drone with a brain. Dutch magazine De Ingenieur visited the company.

Outside, Elferink shows what he means. On a laptop he brought with him, he shows three GPS coordinates, including the desired height. Then the drone takes off to fly to the first point. “He chooses the route himself,” explains Elferink. It’s not that complicated here in an open field, but if there are obstacles in the way, the drone must be able to avoid them – at least soon, because that is proving difficult at the moment.

Arriving at the first spot, the drone hangs for a while. “Now it takes a picture,” says Elferink. A relatively simple task, but attach other instruments to the device and the drone can also perform much more complicated work.

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Autonomous flying

The flight along the three points is fully automatic – Elferink holds his hands in the air for a moment to prove that he is not touching the joystick. That makes MRR unique and promising. “There are few drone pilots, while the demand for drone services will grow sharply in the coming years,” says Elferink.

Drones are ideally suited for mapping agricultural land, but also for inspecting windmills, buildings or dikes, for example.

Drone-as-a-service has the future, says Elferink. “Anyone can then rent a drone for a day or a week, depending on the size of the job. Because the aircraft flies completely by itself, the lessee does not need to have any flying experience. Just clicking on a few points in the web application is enough.’

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Ed Asscheman Online editor Future Farming
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