Researchers at MIT’s Senseable City Laboratory have designed a prototype of a system, Skycall, that consists of a smartphone app and a small quadcopter drone. If a person with the app finds themselves lost on campus, all they have to do is “call” the drone — which comes with GPS, a camera, an audio system, and a microphone — and it will come to their aid, ask where they want to go, and lead them there. If the person wants, they can pause or even end the tour.
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What’s the Big Idea?
The MIT campus has a reputation for being extremely difficult to navigate, and students coming from Harvard to attend classes “are always getting lost [here],” says Senseable City Laboratory director Carlo Ratti. The Skycall project fits in with the lab’s mission: using technology to help create smarter cities. Ratti says that despite drones’ generally bad reputation, on the city level “they can also be very useful…They’re a way to help us better understand our environment.” Human tour guides can relax for now: The project is a proof of concept and not intended for commercial distribution.