Twenty-first-century technological advancements have made it possible to pit human racers against AI pilots in head-to-head drone racing. The first-ever race of its kind saw Swiss pilot Gabriel Kocher don first-person goggles in a bid to navigate an unseen course faster than any AI agents could do so. Kocher came out of the competition as the winner, making it through the course in six seconds, while the fastest AI agent took twelve seconds to complete the course. The fastest automated drone was awarded $US1 million as a prize for its valiant attempt.
Dominance May Not Last
The Drone Racing League was organized by aerospace company Lockheed Martin and crowd-sourced problem-solving company HeroX. Teams built their drones to automatically determine the best course of action based on inputs from the real world. Even though the human won out in this case, organizers don’t expect that dominance to continue for too long. They estimated that the drones would be able to out-pilot human beings by 2023.
A Wide Range of Competitors
Looking at the numbers for the competition, it is easy to make the mistake that it was a small affair that had a limited number of competitors present. However, Lockheed Martin’s call for pilots through their AlphaPilot challenge saw a massive response from developers worldwide. The company stated that four hundred and twenty-four (424) teams comprising about two thousand, three hundred (2300) individuals spanning eighty (80) countries took part in their challenge to develop a self-piloting AI for running a drone.
The Future of Autonomous Flight
While most of the world is concentrated on autonomous cars, Lockheed Martin seems to be thinking much bigger. The company considers a self-piloting flight system to be the future of services such as emergency response and urban package delivery. The development of this technology ties in with events already underway in several online retail chains to provide drone delivery to their customers.