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.
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.