This Drone Uses a Smartphone for Eyes and a Brain

A Qualcomm processor in this stock Android phone is powerful enough to autonomously fly this robot

UPENN’s new quadcopter uses a smartphone for autonomous flight, employing only on-board hardware and vision algorithms—no GPS involved. The drone was built as a collaborative project between Qualcomm and a team of University of Pennsylvania researchers led by Vijay Kumar.

What’s unique about this demo is that it’s the first time that a sophisticated platform like this (and vision-based real-time autonomous navigation of a flying robot is pretty darn sophisticated) has been controlled by a very basic consumer device.

All of the clever stuff in this quadcopter is being handled entirely by a phone, which is just a stock Android smartphone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon inside. It’s not a special device; it’s something that you can pick up for yourself, and the UPenn guys only half jokingly offered to install their app on my phone and let it fly the robot at CES 2015.

Read more: A Smartphone Is the Brain for This Autonomous Quadcopter