A drone with AI used to create a detailed 3D map of the Dragon Breath Cave
The AI-powered drone creates a 3D map of the Dragon Breath Cave, a 670-foot deep underground lake beneath the Kalahari desert that no one had fully explored due to its extreme depth and complexity
- A team of researchers from Austin traveled to Namibia to test a new drone.
- The underwater drone uses sonar mapping to create a map of its surroundings.
- The drone was launched in the Dragon Breath Cave, previously unknown, under the Kalahari desert
A team of researchers has mapped the mysterious Dragon Breath Cave in Namibia, one of the world's largest underground lakes located beneath the Kalahari desert.
The size and depth of the lake had been a problem for human divers who tried to document it in the past.
These were no problems for the AI-driven underwater drone, nicknamed SUNFISH, that the Stone Aerospace team, a company in Austin, Texas, used to create the first fully-made 3D map of the mysterious cave.
Scroll down to watch the video
A team of engineers from Austin traveled to Namibia to try to map one of the largest underground lakes in the world, the Dragon Breath Cave, with an AI-driven drone.
SUNFISH looks like a small closed canoe and is driven by a set of small propellers.
It uses a sonar mapping system to create a 3D image of its surroundings, which then uses an on-board artificial intelligence system to make decisions about where to go next.
It does not use GPS or any other external navigation tool, so it depends entirely on the accuracy of its own sensor readings.
The Stone Aerospace team thought that deploying it in a still unknown place like the Dragon's Breath Cave could be a good test of how self-sufficient the drone would be in a real-world environment.
"In this case here, we face the latest unknown," said Stone Aerospace CEO Bill Stone. Discover.
The region is full of natural sinks, or & # 39; cenotes & # 39 ;, where underground caverns and lakes hover across the surface
The team used an underwater drone called SUNFISH, which uses sonar mapping technology, similar to the echolocation skills of a bat, to create detailed maps of its surroundings.
The team hopes that the SUNFISH drone will eventually be used to explore other planets, including Europe, Jupiter's ice-covered moon with groundwater where scientists believe they could find signs of life.
"We don't even have an orbital observatory or satellite shots like the rover [Mars]."
The team sent the SUNFISH to the Dragon Breath Cave and the robot methodically mapped the space, which was 575 wide and 670 feet deep, with an additional open space of 200 feet between the top of the water and the ground.
To a large extent, the team also used the drone to map two other underwater lakes that could be accessed through sinks that had eroded the arid ground above.
The SUNFISH drone uses sonar sensors to create a detailed 3D map of your environment and your AI is equipped to help you make complex navigation decisions and recognize dead ends
The drone mapping software allows you to constantly build a complete 3D map of each location through which it passes, reaching areas that would otherwise be too deep and dangerous for humans.
The SUNFISH drone does not have any GPS on board and because the lakes are underground, the team could not rely on aerial satellite images to help complete the map, putting all the pressure on the internal imaging systems of the drone.
"This whole project is a window to where we find this gradual transition towards true autonomy and AI behavior in completely unstructured environments," Stone said.
‘We are talking about vehicles that go to places never seen before by humans. And that was what SUNFISH just did, for the first time: it explored a completely unknown place on this planet beyond where humans had been before. "
Stone Aerospace investigates autonomous vehicles and navigation systems for vehicles that it hopes will one day be used on other planets.
The AI system used in SUNFISH could one day be used in the groundwater of Europe, one of Jupiter's moons where many researchers believe that signs of microscopic life can be found beneath the icy surface.
"We are beginning to see what we would call" true AI "entering the world of exploration," Stone said.