Six researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a 1kg, autonomous hex-copter they’ve named the AscTec Firefly that uses four stereo-pair cameras to create 3D disparity maps of its surroundings to sense and avoid obstacles in real time. That’s a very useful skill for an autonomous vehicle designed to navigate around people or through a forest, for example. Rather than rely on ultrasound ranging systems or time-of-flight imagers, the AscTec Firefly relies of four stereo camera pairs equipped with ultra-wide-angle lenses. The stereo vision permits the creation of a 3D map of the copter’s surroundings.
AscTec Firefly Autonomous Hex-Copter
The four stereo-pair cameras feed directly into the FPGA fabric in a Xilinx Zynq Z-7020 All Programmable SoC mounted on a Mars ZX3 Enclustra SOM. The Zynq SoC synchronizes the video streams from the eight video cameras (four stereo pairs), corrects lens distortion, performs disparity estimation and SGM (Semi global Matching, for 3D mapping)—all in real time. The resulting disparity maps are then sent to a host Intel Core i7 processor over Gigabit Ethernet. A block diagram of the system appears below:
But the real question is, “Does this thing fly?” Yes, it does and here’s the video proof: