The new MIT indoor flying lab is helping to simplify one of the biggest challenges to wider deployment of unmanned vehicles: developing the very complex, perfectly reliable software and telecommunications systems to manage a fleet of flying devices and keep them from crashing into each other.
Their next milestone is to keep a fleet flying for seven straight days, which requires helicopters flying back to a landing pad to recharge their batteries. Several graduate students in electrical engineering and aeronautics, including Brett Bethke, Daniel Dale, and Mario Valenti, handle much of the nuts-and-bolts work of keeping the fleet flying.
The work directly addresses some of the major obstacles to wider use of unmanned aerial vehicles, said John Vian, a technical fellow with Boeing Phantom Works. "Enabling complex and coupled systems to operate reliably is really the biggest challenge we're facing," he said. "We need smart systems, and Jon How and the folks at MIT have the capability to make them work."