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Microsoft built an AI-controlled glider that flies like a bird


Microsoft researchers have developed remote control glider known as a sailplane, that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to control its own flight. They tested it in the desert of Hawthorne Nevada, where the glider took flight successfully, as researchers followed behind in a jeep, tracking its progress.

The software on board analyzes its flight data to predict things like thermal currents, which are natural occurrences of rising air due to heat. By taking advantage of these conditions, the plane can chart the best course possible to stay in the air, without any need of a motor. The idea, to soar like a bird, literally.

“Birds do this seamlessly, and all they’re doing is harnessing nature. And they do it with a peanut-sized brain,” says Ashish Kapoor, a principal researcher at Microsoft.

Of course, it isn’t as easy for a computer to pull it off as it is for a bird, as it requires a number of complex algorithms. It analyzes a number of variables including wind direction, temperatures, and areas where it should keep clear of. With all of this information combined, the AI can determine where it should glide next to continue picking up these thermal currents.

Microsoft explains that this is one of the more complicated uses of AI thus far, and this could spell out new things for AI driven drones in the future that can deliver mobile data overhead, monitor large sections of land, or of course track enemies in a battlefield (although that last part wasn’t including in their own words).

It isn’t finished just yet as they still have various things to work on to enhance it as they go, but eventually they plan on integrating green energy (like solar) to keep it in the air indefinitely.

Imagine going on an expedition in the middle of the thickest areas of a rainforest, where no connectivity can be found for miles. Unless of course, you have one of these gliders tracking your progress and providing you signal from overhead. The number of uses for something like this will stack pretty high once AI like this becomes available to various industries and consumers alike. Let’s just hope it doesn’t turn on us.


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Lauren comes from a background in the live production industry where she has worked with some of the top audio, video and lighting technologies available today. She is an avid gamer across all consoles and can't resist a deep intellectual conversation--assuming you can catch her when she is available.

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