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Going to a new school is tough - Not only does one have to seek out new friends but also be able to navigate around an unknown campus which can be a harrowing task depending on how big it is. Most schools assign seniors to help the newcomers, which is great, but wouldn't it be more fun if the campus guide was not human but a drone helicopter? Welcome to SkyCall.
It was invented by the geniuses at Boston-based Massachusetts Institute Technology's (MIT) SENSEable City Lab to help students and visitors find their way around what the folks at the lab describe as "one of mankind’s most difficult and disorientating labyrinths" – the MIT campus. Still in prototype phase SkyCall, which was unveiled on September 12th, is a sophisticated drone quadcopter that has been fitted with an autopilot camera, WiFi, GPS navigation as well as sensors that allow it to make its way independently to the desired destination.
In order to summon the 'guide', all the student or visitor has to do is call using a SkyCall app that can be downloaded on a smartphone and used within a 2-3 mile radius inside the campus. The app will communicate the user's exact location to the quadcopter, within minutes. Once SkyCall arrives, it will hover over its guest, waiting for instructions on where he/she needs to go. These are relayed to the quadcopter by entering a pre-programmed alphanumeric code on the smartphone app. Then all the student or visitor has to do is follow the drone. Like any good tour guide, SkyCall will point out other important classrooms, labs or landmarks along the way so that campus starts to feel less intimidating. As soon as it completes it mission, the guide will disappear back to its ground base to await summons from another lost soul.
Given that SkyCall is still in early prototype phase, it does have some limitations - Though pretty autonomous it needs human help when it comes to opening doors and while it can sense solid obstacles like walls, it does not have the capability to detect other flying objects. But the scientists hope to change all that in their future versions.
And while its first assignment is 'campus guide', the inventors see numerous useful applications for SkyCall ranging from monitoring algae blooms and air quality in the nearby Charles River, to being part of rescue teams during emergencies like earthquakes and floods. We for one would be just happy to have one zooming around our neighborhood helping people that are lost and even those that aren't, but just want to have some fun!