Drones can navigate like bats using four mics and a speaker

Jon Fingas
Associate Editor
James Trew/Engadget

Bats can find their way in the dark using echolocation, so why can't drones? Researchers have managed just that. They've developed a system that lets a drone navigate using just four microphones and a speaker. It relies on the familiar concept of measuring distance by generating echoes, but uses an algorithm based on communicative algebra that 'echosorts' to determine which distances represent given objects. It won't produce "ghost walls" that leave the drone afraid to move.

The drone currently has to be stationary to get a feel for its environment, but the scientists hope to use the technology mid-flight. The team will also look at situations where the drone might be restricted.

If this system is available worldwide, it could lead to far-reaching improvements. Drones wouldn't be quite so reliant on cameras and GPS to get around, and that could be particularly helpful for search and rescue, night patrols and other missions where light is scarce. It could also be helpful for underwater drones and other vessels that will never have great vision. And yes, the bat-like technology might help on terra firma -- it's easy to imagine this supplementing backup cameras on cars, not to mention other sensors on self-driving vehicles.