Will Autonomous Drones eradicate future drone pilots in FPV racing?

Will Autonomous Drones eradicate future drone pilots in FPV racing?

FPVs are just in their infancy with many to be pilots only starting to see the dream of flying one and the question of autonomous drones are like Annabell’s trailer for these young enthusiasts. Autonomy has become a pop culture terminology among engineers, wielded more often without cerebral wherewithal than with parlance. Automation which is the need of the hour of occidental nations – the long term sequelae of population scarcity has been copied mindlessly in oriental ecosystems just as we copy any other western ideology. So if our reader is an Indian they need not cast aspersions on these questions for India has merely started to legalize drones to various sectors. 

Before we proceed further it is imported to note the distinction between autonomy and automation. Automation requires initial manned input before carrying on the process on its own like turning on an air conditioner. An AC will then automatically change the temperature of the room and switch to energy saving mode if the temperature decreases but humans can intervene to change the course of action whereas an autonomous device does not entertain any human intervention like a docking of a satellite. The solution to this controversy comes down to ‘need’. The question that should be asked is do we need autonomy in FPV drone racing? If you answer positively then ‘eradicate’ is that term which should actually be eradicated from the question because even if one goes against your will to make drones autonomous you can still build one with manual control (except if we are living in an Orwellian society) but if you answer negatively then ‘todos disfrutan!’ 

Of course the answer can never be a complete one sided because many pilots like the drones to have self hovering functionality while their controllers have been abandoned so there will always exist some degree of automation but autonomy comes with ultimate automation. We also need to consider the various field of operations for FPVs, even in racing all and sundry will vote for at least “Altitude Hold” and “6-axis gyro stabilization” since DJI Mavic mini is an all-fav.  If we stay focused only on FPV racing then it’s more of a personal choice and I’m reminded of my school days where boys used to bring their beyblades for racing. Since racing is done for personal pleasure more often than not the choice to ‘autonomise’ the drone will perennially survive in the hands of the pilots and we’ll only see some minor automation addition or subtraction from time to time (if drone racing does not get adopted by Olympics). 

Talking of eradication of drone pilots, autonomy comes in handy while patrolling or following a subject or obstacle avoidance yet after the crash of Flight 610 and the Lion Air flight plane’s dive incident where the crews battled with the autonomy of the plane system where due to the malfunctioning of a sensor the plane repeatedly tilted nose-wards. “All those systems failed the crew and passengers,” said Moss, of AeroPacific Consulting. There have been various other incidents where the crash could have been avoided had there been a manual override facility on board. This is enough to explain how autonomy exacerbates emergencies and reveals the extent to which the human pilots can be removed out of the equation. 

To make the mood light here’s what autonomy or artificial intelligence can’t do

  • It cannot prioritize
  • It cannot glean context
  • Cannot drive change
  • Cannot innovate
  • It cannot do root cause analysis
  • It cannot do dynamic risk assessment
  • Unable to refine own knowledge to wisdom
  • Cannot self improve with experience
  • Cannot abort or unlearn
  • No spontaneity to make the best out of the situation 
  • It cannot understand Apt Timing

Humans have things a computer can never have and all the above points are necessary for efficiency and specifically during emergencies. And just like pilot Sully said, “You are looking for human error so introduce a human factor” hence it is impossible to remove the ‘human factor’ entirely from FPVs. 

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