HomeTiny autonomous UAV flies without GPS

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MITSUHIRO SUGAI, Nikkei staff writer

Phenox2 is equipped with four propellers.

TOKYO — A Japanese graduate student has developed and marketed a small drone that can fly autonomously and stably without need for the global positioning system, or a remote controller.

The palm-size drone, called Phenox2, is now on sale.

“There is no other commercially available drone (of this size) that can fly autonomously without using a GPS and whose flight program can be changed freely by its user,” said Ryo Konomura, the Ph.D. student at the University of Tokyo who developed the machine.


Ryo Konomura, a Ph.D. student at the University of Tokyo who developed Phenox2, holds the drone. He started Phenox Lab to develop and sell the drone.

The development and commercial sale of Phenox2 comes amid growing expectations that such unmanned aerial vehicles will become widely used for business purposes such as spreading pesticides and delivering packages.

The key to the full-scale dissemination of drones is flight safety, and Phenox2 boasts stellar performance.

In a recent demonstration, the operator of a Phenox2 blew a whistle, and the drone took off. It rose to about 1.5 meters above the floor and hovered there without swaying from side to side or up and down.

When the operator pushed Phenox2 to one side with a hand, the drone returned to its original position quickly and smoothly and kept hovering. It can confirm and fine-tune its location in real time.

“It may appear to be easy (for a drone) to keep hovering in the same position. But it is difficult, actually,” Konomura said with a smile.

Phenox2 is a compact quadcopter equipped with four propellers, and weighs only 75 grams. It does not require a remote controller, and is capable of flying autonomously and in a stable manner, thanks to various types of sensors on board.

To determine altitude, the drone has a ultrasonic distance meter, as well as a downward-pointing camera to image the floor and confirm its location based on the resulting images.