Toyota hackathon winners aimed for drone that automatically follows a car

Toyota hackathon winners aimed for drone that automatically follows a car


It seems that every day, we learn of a new project that aims to get drones to follow people around. But now, it’s about following cars.

At a recent Toyota hackathon in California, a number of teams were tasked with coming up with ways to build apps around the company’s Vehicle Data Visualizer, an onboard system that generates data such as a car’s speed, RPMs, GPS coordinates, and more.

One team, known as Eye in the Sky, set out to build an Android app that could control a drone and have it autonomously follow a Scion FR-S around a track set up outside the hackathon venue at the San Mateo County Event Center, about 45 minutes south of San Francisco.

According to Eye in the Sky, the idea was that the car would make its GPS coordinates available by Bluetooth, and the app would collect that data and feed it to the drone.

In a short documentary of the team’s effort by Boonsri Dickinson and Elder Productions, we see that Eye in the Sky struggled with its goal, fighting to get its app working until the final minutes of the hackathon. But the goal was interesting. As Eye in the Sky team member Nathan Schuett put it, “Although many follow-me applications are in development in the drone community, we wanted to build something that was more dynamic, with camera angles and controls that are capable of handling the acceleration and cornering capabilities of the Scion.”

Unfortunately, in the end, Eye in the Sky was not able to finish all of its planned work during the 24-hour hackathon. Still, it completed enough work — it was able to get an Android app up and running and do a prerecorded route in simulation — that the team won the competition and the $10,000 top prize.

Reached by phone today, Schuett, the CEO of PreNav, a startup working on software for autonomous drone flights, told VentureBeat that although Eye in the Sky hasn’t yet reached all its goals from the hackathon, it expects to conduct a complete demonstration for Toyota within the next couple of months. PreNav, in fact, hired an Android developer after the hackathon to work on the project, and Schuett said the app is now done. The team is just working on a few remaining navigation issues.