With one possible exception, autonomous quadcopters are not something that you would expect to be inexpensive. A relatively cheap model may indeed be on its way, however. Designed by the Vienna University of Technology’s Virtual Reality Team, the tiny aircraft utilizes the processor and camera of an off-the-shelf smartphone.

The Vienna team, led by chief engineer Annette Mossel, programmed the quadcopter’s navigation software into the processor using an app.

Once in flight, the UAV uses the phone’s camera to identify QR-like coded squares placed on the floor within a room. These allow it to create a map of the room, so it can subsequently find its way around the space on its own. Ultimately, plans call for it to be able to identify actual objects naturally present in a room (such as tables and chairs) using a Kinect-style depth sensor, and create its map using those.

The smartphone bits and pieces are the most expensive components of the quadcopter, with all of its parts together worth less than €1,000 (US$1,333). It is hoped that eventually, a commercial descendant of the aircraft could be used for things such as monitoring illegal forest clearing in developing nations.

Perhaps its price could be brought down further if it came without a processor of its own, and users just docked their own smartphone into it – as is already the case with some small, wheeled robots.

It can be seen in flight in the video below.

Source: Vienna University of Technology