Quadrotors Learning to Surf Urban Winds for Huge Performance Boosts
Personally, I don’t believe that urban delivery drones are a.) going to happen anytime soon or b.) even that good of an idea. One of the problems (among many, which I’ve discussed in previous posts) that urban drones have to deal with is efficiency: batteries count as payload, so if you want to fly farther, you’ll be carrying less of whatever your customers are paying for. Generally, quadrotor range is measured in minutes of flight time, which equates to a given distance at a given speed. Also generally, quadrotor range does not take into account the fact that the quadrotor is flying around outdoors, where wind can be a significant factor that either helps you out our ruins your day.
At MIT, John Ware and Professor Nicholas Roy have been working on ways of helping quadrotors leverage the wind fields created by structures in urban environments to improve their energy consumption. By modeling how wind blows around dense concentrations of buildings, quadrotors can plan intelligent trajectories to seek out tailwinds and avoid headwinds, boosting their efficiency and potentially leading to both higher speed and longer range.