The Parrot drone quadcopter is a commercially-available drone notable for the fact that it can be controlled with an iOS Device, and now the European Space Agency is using this to help simulate docking with a virtual space station.

Having released software for the drone's cameras to the drone-loving public, the agency hopes to gain data from users that they can analyse in order to fine tune navigation software for its own drones.

Users of the ESA's app will designate a real-world location as their docking port, and an overlay representing the port or airlock will then be imposed over the image sent back to their handset by the drone's cameras. They will gain points depending on how fast the manoeuvre is completed without bumps, scrapes or crashes, and extra points will be gained for correctly orientating the drone and a slow final approach.

In essence, for your average user this is just a very expensive toy, but for the ESA it is a way to gather data on how humans navagate drones, which they can use to teach future robot spacecrafts to cope with a wide variety of docking situations.

"People intuitively assess their position and motion in relation to their surroundings in various ways, based on what they see before them," said Esa research fellow Guido de Croon in a statement, adding

“We’re not interested in the places people are flying in. We will not receive any raw video images or GPS measurements, only the abstract mathematical image features that the drone itself perceives for navigation, along with velocity readings.”

"We can obtain real-life data to train our algorithms in large amounts that would practically be impossible to get in any other way," said Leopold Summerer, head of the Esa lab that developed
the app.

Source: European Space Agency

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