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Penn engineers, under the leadership of the School of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Vijay Kumar, have developed a group of drones that can navigate on their own with unprecedented precision, according to an article from The Inquirer. 

While other drones rely on satellite signals and only function outdoors, these new drones employ algorithms that allow them to move efficiently to their target and within close range. This means that while other self-flying drones typically use Global Positioning System technology to navigate, these new products are able to fly in a deliberate path even when they do not have access to external databases like GPS. 

“This is the largest swarm of autonomous quadrotors that does not reply on motion capture or GPS position,” Penn researcher Giuseppe Loianno said to IEEE Spectrum.

“The robots basically talk to each other,” Kumar told The Inquirer. “They each know where they’re going. They can use high-level algorithms to distribute themselves in complex ways to solve tasks.”

The drones' unique capabilities make them useful tools for emergencies, Kumar added. “Such devices can work as a group to canvas a wide area, capturing images and other data that would help emergency responders plot the next step." 

The drones were funded by the telecommunications company Qualcomm and the National Science Foundation.  

Drones have enjoyed widespread use both as toys and as tools for surveillance, but have also caused issues in the past and spurred calls for greater regulation, as The Daily Pennsylvanian has previously reported

But according to the project description from Penn’s General Robotics, Automation, Sensing & Perception laboratory, the drones, which range in size from 20 grams to two kilograms, have “applications to search and rescue, first response and precision farming.”

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