back to article Another thing AI is better at than you: First-person drone racing

A fully autonomous flight AI has steered a drone through a racetrack faster than human pilots in the fledgling sport of first-person view (FPV) drone racing. Built by researchers in Switzerland, the AI named Swift has won several races against human champions and achieved the fastest time on the pre-defined track. With a …

  1. Pete 2 Silver badge

    The death of speed

    > fully autonomous flight AI has steered a drone through a racetrack faster than human pilots

    Presumably a feat that will soon be repeated in many other sports where speed and therefore reaction times are of the essence. Just as soon as the computers and their power supplies can be shrunk down to sensible sizes - rather than the half-ton of batteries that electric cars need, in order to attain any reasonable range.

    Should we hail or mourn the coming obsolescence of motor racing, in all its forms? Aerobatics, with machines able to withstand higher G's? And the obvious retirement of "Top Gun" pilots for the same reason.

    1. Spazturtle Silver badge

      Re: The death of speed

      F1 cars already used to have the turnings pre-programmed into them before the race so they would take the optimal turn, they eventually banned this as they wanted to keep the human factor.

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: The death of speed

      Sorry, but cars have been getting obese for decades.

      That is the real problem... Batteries are heavier than dead dinosaurs, but the motors are substantially lighter. It's perfectly possible to convert a vehicle whilst retaining the same corner weights (or even improving the distribution) and still have enough range for every day usage.

      Of course you'll be like Jake and every weekend need to travel a thousand miles, uphill all the way with six horses in a trailer behind what in any civilised country would be classified as a lorry - and of course be clinically unable to stop for a comfort break, or a rest in order to remain alert whilst driving.

      There is an issue with charging infrastructure reliability - but that's not an issue with EVs, it's an issue with infrastructure that's still being developed. There are a number of networks I choose to use over others nowadays, though if I could use Telsa superchargers they would top the list immediately.

      As for mourning the loss of sports - why would the ability to hold automated drone races detract from F1, there are technical restrictions in place to ensure that we're still seeing drivers drive, rather than traction control sort it all out for them.

    3. cyberdemon Silver badge

      Robot Wars

      I would love to see a reincarnation of "robot wars" without the human pilots. It could easily be done inexpensively if the majority of the sensing is done by the arena, with APIs for pointcloud data etc. and the control would be done off board in a rack with radio control to the robots.

      Human pilots would become operators, and could give high level instructions such as designating strike points on the enemy bots.

      Perhaps the human audience would find it less enthralling and more terrifying though..

      1. eclairz

        Re: Robot Wars

        Robot sumo is basically robot wars without weapons but purely AI very funny to watch but ultra quick

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "a milestone for robotics and machine intelligence"

    For robotics, maybe. For the rest, it's a milestone in component performance and proper programming.

    There is no such thing as machine intelligence. There's the hardware, that has attained a level that is apparently sufficient, and then there's proper programming.

    This wasn't done by a Microsoft development team.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "a milestone for robotics and machine intelligence"

      This wasn't done by a Microsoft development team.

      Oh, allow them to add streamers with ads for Microsoft services and they will come. They will still lose badly, of course, but they will come.

  3. stiine Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Doonesbury showed us this many years ago

    Just look at the faces on the suprised production managers in panel 7...

    And this is why I lock the bathroom door when flossing:

  4. that one in the corner Silver badge

    > the nascent sport

    That is already 12 years old, so old enough that you can easily envisage someone who wasn't born at the time of the first races taking part. With 320 million households involved and at least half a dozen different organisations setting up races, aren't we well past "nascent", and have even missed the opportunity to call it a "fledgling"?

    Anyway, more to the point:

    > "Reaching the level of professional pilots with an autonomous drone is challenging because the robot needs to fly at its physical limits while estimating its speed and location in the circuit exclusively from onboard sensors."

    The drone finds it "challenging" against a human when it has sensors to actually measure[1] speed, location and, probably, also distance to obstacles[2]! One a pre-determined course! They don't even have to worry about motion sickness from the FPV goggles (if you thought VR can make you puke...). What kind of wimpy algorithms are they using that it is even mildly surprising that the machine can't drive the course at the limits of the fligjt hardware's capability? Did all those maze-running mice die in vain?

    > developed a system that combines deep reinforcement learning (RL)

    Oh, they are using *that* sort of algorithm! No doubt they are more surprised it didn't suddenly flip upside down halfway around and run the whole course backwards (for no good reason that anyone can figure out).

    Sorry, but given how many years have passed since clever chaps got drones to juggle sticks between each other, running a known course with sensors somehow doesn't seem terribly exciting.

    Now, if they had run the course with just the feed from the FPV and the same level of control loop as the humans did, then we can talk turkey.

    > could eventually lead to applications in battlefield warfare.

    Just so long as everyone agrees on the course, eh? As Colonel Blimp said, "War starts at Midnight".

    [1] if they are only estimating those things, go and buy some better sensors!

    [2] if not, they really need to read some more hobbyist electronics blogs!

  5. Securitymoose

    Competitions should be like for like

    What's next, entering driver-less cars in track races against humans?

    You don't have donkeys in the Grand National; conversely why would you consider AI piloting a drone a fair comparison?

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