The final version of the code allowed the drone to best its human rivals 60% of the time

Thursday, August 31st, 2023

Researchers in Switzerland unveiled a quadcopter drone equipped with an AI brain that beat its human rival in 15 out of 25 races:

“This is the first time that an AI has challenged and beaten human champions in a real-world competitive sport,” says Elia Kaufmann, an autonomy engineer at Skydio, a drone company based out of Redwood City, California, who worked on the drone while at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.


Kaufmann taught the drone what racing gates looked like by hand-identifying the fabric gates in tens of thousands of images — a technique known as “supervised learning.” The team also used more conventional code to help the drone triangulate its position and orientation based on visual cues from its cameras.

But the real secret to the drone’s success came from a relatively new technique known as “reinforcement learning.” The team put the drone’s control code into a virtual version of the race course and sent it around and around in virtual space for the equivalent of 23 days (one hour of computing time). The code kept practicing until it learned the best route.


The final version of the code allowed the drone to best its human rivals 60% of the time.

The drone has plenty of limitations. It only works for the specific course it’s been trained on and in a specific environment. Moving the course from inside to outdoors, for example, would throw the drone off due to changes in lighting. And the slightest things can send it spinning. For example, if a rival accidentally bumps it, “it has no idea how to handle this and crashes,” says Bauersfeld.


  1. Jim says:

    Bring on the future, baby.

    It can’t come soon enough.

  2. Pongo says:

    White cohesion and small-unit tactics will finally be devalued and thrown on the pyre of capital.

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