Smart Drones: between myth and reality.


We are in the “Smart” era. Large compagnies especially the GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft) are increasingly seeking to make all of our everyday objects smart or intelligent. In this article, we aim to see the possibilities for drones to become intelligent and demystify all the legends about AIs.  

Thanks to current technology, it is possible to make any device “intelligent”. It started with cellphones that became Smartphones. Then, these same phones / smartphones evolved again and have been able to answer our questions, notably with Siri and Google Assistant. 

Now, this motivation to make the devices intelligent has gained all field of human activity. We’re talking about 4.0 Companies. All this is made possible, by a technology known as Artificial Intelligence. 

What about drones,  those littles gems of technology. They are tending to become more and more intelligent too. A multitude of research aims to make those flying devices more autonomous. We are going to talk about it, explain what is the Artificial Intelligence and demonstrate that we are far, even very far, from a possible rise of the machines as we can see in big Hollywood productions. 

Artificial Intelligence, what is it?  

The term Artificial Intelligence or AI is born in 1950 in the article “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” published by Alan Turing. Where he wonder if a machine can “think”. He explore this problematic and propose an experimentation (test of Turing) to know when a machine would become conscious. His idea of Artificial Intelligence was ahead of his time, and it takes many years to have the capacities of computer strong enough to support it.   

To give you a better presentation of what is the Artificial Intelligence, I have asked the Dr.  Rim Slama, expert in Machine Learning and Deep Learning, to write a small explanation.  

Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that focuses on the developpment of computer programs with the ability to learn from experience without being explicitly programmed.
Deep Learning, on the other hand, is just a type of Machine Learning, inspired by the structure of a human brain. DL algorithms uses a multi-layered structure called neural networks.” 

Artificial Intelligence in drones 

Drones are no exception, there are a lot of research about AI in the drone industry and many applications are already functional.  
In the field of Computer Vision, some compagnies have developed algorithms that  
differentiates a person, a vehicle or a simple object. This kind of algorithm can be very helpful in case of people assembly, the authorities are able to count the number of participants.  
One step further, it is possible to combine this algorithm to another one that can recognize faces. The drone can therefore recognize and follow a specific person. That useful, in case of a dangerous or wanted person is hiding in a crowd. All Face Recognition algorithm are not the same, all of them do not necessary need to see the entire face. Some of them can work with a small part of it.  
Another step further, with an Action Recognition algorithm, the drone is able to detect a dangerous or inappropriate behavior and report it to the operator.  

This is only one example but there are a lot of possibilities. AI and Drones are two large fields and permit a large rang of combined creations. All around de world, we can see plenty research projects to make drones smarter by integrate some AI algorithms in drones.  

Among those research projects, the biggest part is Computer Vision related. Due to the facility for drones to capture pictures from above. All those pictures can be processed to detect or recognize a lot of things. 
Other applications   
The aim is to automate human tasks to make it quicker, cheaper and maybe better.    

The future 

For the future, the great trend is to make devices autonomous. Cars, drones, houses, … 

For drones, the idea is that it must be aware of its surrounding environment and be able to take the good action at the good time. It must reacts to all expected or unexpected situation in the way to guarantee the safety and the security of everything around it (living beings or not). The goal is to ask the drone to do a simple task and it will do the task from takeoff to landing without any pilot.

For that the drone is equipped with plenty captors to detect everything in a predefined radius around it.

Written by:
Dr. Rim Slama, Researcher and Teacher at Hénallux
Kevin Neefs, Researcher at Hénallux and holder of a Belgian class 1 license