Microsoft has released a drone simulator that can be much more useful than it seems.
Drones are more than just toys and distractions; they are a tool that can perform work that until now had to be done by humans. We have a good example of this on Amazon and their project to send packages by drone.
Why would you need a drone simulator
Although the heavens seem like the perfect place for these autonomous systems, we couldn’t be more wrong; It is not only the danger if a drone falls from heights, it is that its simple handling is quite complicated.
Especially for a machine that is not clear what is dangerous and what is not. If the developer doesn’t take it into account, the drone can end up hitting cables, getting tangled in tree branches and more.
To facilitate the development of AI and autonomous systems, Microsoft has developed a drone simulator and released its code under an MIT license. It is appropriately called AirSim; Although you should not confuse it with Flight Simulator, also from Microsoft.
AirSim uses the Unreal Engine graphics engine, but it is not a video game; although crashing drones in all kinds of situations can be a good fun. Also, in the future it will be updated to support more devices, such as cars.
How video games help develop drones and other autonomous vehicles
Actually, this program is more oriented to developers who want to test their systems in a safe environment; Microsoft is quick to remember that not a substitute for actual evidence, but serve to speed up and make the process cheaper.
Unfortunately, the use of the Unreal Engine has its positive points, but also negative ones. If we want to try this drone simulator, Microsoft only provides us with the source code; for licensing reasons, you cannot include the necessary Unreal Engine files. At least they have published a simple tutorial with what we have to download and do to run the program.
But more interesting than the program itself, are the implications it has. First of Microsoft is releasing code to help the free software community; Although it is increasingly common, veterans like me still find it difficult to accept it.
But above all, it’s a good reminder that the product design process no longer has to be done only in real life; the advancement of virtual reality and video games allows create experiences very close to reality.
The physics are calculated down to the smallest detail, it is possible to add all kinds of variables, and the graphics are photorealistic.
Microsoft isn’t the only one using video games to train autonomous systems; Darmstadt University scientists departed from Grand Theft Auto V to teach an Artificial Intelligence to drive.
The obstacles and problems he was facing were very similar to those he could actually find himself driving; but more importantly, I had no limit on the number of hours I could spend, learning each one of them.
That is the true potential of these video games or simulators; And the one developed by Microsoft has the same potential in the drone sector.