The European Space Agency Needs You!

I know I promised a review of the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Quadricopter in short order but this bit of news has to push that review back a day or so.  Stay tuned for that review, a few pictures, and a video or two.  On to the news.

The European Space Agency has released an iPhone/iPad game app called AstroDrone targeted at Parrot AR Drone owners.  The app presents the user an augmented reality game with the objective of “docking” the Parrot AR Drone to a simulated version of the International Space Station.  The drone, and the dock are very real however.

With the permission of the user, the AstroDrone augmented reality game collects video images from the Parrot AR Drone’s main camera during a real world flight as the users attempts to complete the simulated docking maneuvers.  An augmented-reality marker is placed on a real-world feature that represents the Space Station docking port.  The challenge is to “dock” the drone onto a graphical version of the Space Station in as rapid but controlled a manner as possible, with bonus points for correct orientation and low speed on final approach.

While this sounds like a fun game, the purpose of the effort is to collect data from users performing docking maneuvers to help artificial intelligence development efforts.  The ultimate goal of the crowdsourcing effort is to use the gathered data to teach robots how to navigate through complex environments.  The ultimate goal for the ESA could be enabling AI to pilot autonomous spacecraft that can reliably maneuver, dock, or land with little human guidance.

In short, rocket scientists create a fun and engaging game that collects data on how people play (and win) and then uses the data to program AI to perform similar tasks.  Yes I said win.  There’s a high score board apparently.

The Parrot AR Drone was selected for the crowdsourcing experiment in part because there are nearly a half million units in the field.  This provides a large potential contribution from Parrot owners who play the game.  The Parrot’s on board main camera provides images that are very useful to the project.  The open source API was also cited as a feature that helped to drive the project.

The app was developed by ESA  research fellow Guido de Croon with help from Paul Gerke and Ida Sprinkhuizen-Kuyper of Radboud University in the Netherlands.  I hope there’s an android version coming soon!  I want to play!  Rest assured when I get access to the game I’ll post a review.

The project details, information about the app, and the experiment description can be found on the ESA’s website.

What do you think about the ESA’s Astrodrone app?  Leave your feedback here or drop me an email at [email protected] this blog’s url and let me know.  Finally (and most importantly) sign up for my mailing list to keep in contact with me and the projects I’m pursuing.  I promise no spam, just periodic updates on the projects I’m working on and topics related to them.


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