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Google’s Project Blackrock sought to bring autonomy to drones w/ computer vision [Video]

blackrock.mp4 2015-12-17 10-29-53

Many of Google’s internal projects go unannounced for a variety of reasons, but now we’ve uncovered one of them thanks to a year-old video hidden deep in the archive of a Silicon Valley filmmaker’s Vimeo account. Called Project Blackrock, this initiative from Google sought to make quadcopters autonomous with the help of a pair of cameras and a computer…

It seems pretty clear why this project never got an official announcement and was never publicized. Compared to Google’s Project Glass, Project Loon, Project Fi, and others, Project Blackrock is mundane and not nearly as ambitious. Rather than hoping to bring an internet connection to the entire world using balloons, for instance, Blackrock just wanted to make some drones fly around by themselves. It’s not that the technology is unimpressive, but Google’s announced “Projects” are usually a pretty big deal.

That doesn’t mean that this isn’t interesting, though. Google enthusiasts — myself included — now have a glimpse into one of the company’s more modest unannounced ambitions, and it’s a pretty cool one at that. Autonomous drones aren’t a new idea (and they weren’t at the time Google commissioned this Blackrock video), but the method Google used to make them autonomous is clever. Rather than giving the drones eyes themselves, Google used a pair of cameras on the ground to identify a drone’s location midair and tell the drones where to go based on that information.

“We start with a pair of cameras just looking out into the air, and then you put a quadcopter in, and the two cameras try to identify the quadcopter and track it,” one unnamed Googler said. “That information gets fed into a computer, and it tells the quadcopter where it should be going based on where it is.”

It’s not clear if Project Blackrock is even — by itself, at least — an active initiative at Google anymore, but it doesn’t seem that any official project or product has been announced as a result of it yet. Google tests tons of new technologies as they become available, and this video just happens to be about one of those teams — in this case assigned to experiment with drones. While this project may not be all that impressive by itself, it’s possible that this was just one part of Google’s ongoing work in drone delivery with Project Wing.

The video’s privacy settings prevents it from being embedded, so I uploaded a mirror to YouTube:

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Avatar for Stephen Hall Stephen Hall

Stephen is Growth Director at 9to5. If you want to get in touch, follow me on Twitter. Or, email at stephen (at) 9to5mac (dot) com, or an encrypted email at hallstephenj (at) protonmail (dot) com.