Designing small copters: Koray, a graduate student in computer engineering, recently designed a one-of-a-kind micro aerial vehicle containing a computer processor on board and using innovative, new navigational technology he and other Iowa State researchers developed.

Little machine, innovative technology: The helicopter that Koray created is 20 inches in length and weighs only 2 pounds. It can fly up to 45 miles per hour and contains a flight computer, a navigation computer, and a monocular vision (single-lens) digital video camera. It’s capable of facial recognition, recording video, checking e-mail, and any other tasks that a laptop can do. In addition, all image processing and simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) computations are performed on board the machine.

Personal motivations: Koray’s passion for airplanes, in addition to a medical condition, provided the inspiration for his autonomous helicopter and the navigation system it uses. “A short-term medical condition involving the inertial-measurement mechanisms of the human head inspired me to research how human vision can be computerized at a high-level. I wanted to create the ultimate vision-guided autonomous flying robot,” says Koray.

Envisioning the future: Koray hopes to eventually adapt his system to work both indoors and outdoors as well as to integrate parts of the system into wearable devices, such as a firefighter’s helmet, and to add further complexity into the mapping system. “The foreseeable future of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions will involve GPS-denied environment,” Koray says. “An MAV with vision based on online simultaneous localization and mapping capabilities can pave the way for an ultimate GPS-free navigation tool for both urban outdoors and architectural indoors.”

Previous research: Prior to developing his autonomous helicopter, Koray also worked on a research project to develop a system for acquiring in real-time a complete physical health and electrical performance image of power systems. “Our system aims to monitor power lines against sabotage and natural disasters, as well as prevent blackouts like the one in New York City in 2003,” Koray says.