MIT Develops ‘SkyCall’ Drone to Guide People Around Campus

Look out, tour guides. The robots are coming for your jobs.

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Here at the EmTech MIT conference, director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab Carlo Ratti took the stage as part of a presentation about emerging technologies for connected cities.

Rotti took a few minutes to show off one of his team’s recent projects. It’s called SkyCall and consists of a mobile app paired with an autonomous flying quadcopter that helps people find their way around the MIT campus.

A person downloads the SkyCall app to a smartphone, which leverages the phone’s GPS chip to determine the person’s location. The quadcopter then flies its way to the person, greets the person and then prompts the person for a code containing the building and room numbers of his or her destination.

Once the code gets entered via the app, the quadcopter starts heading out toward the destination at a walkable pace ahead of the person and highlights nearby points of interest along the way. If the person following the quadcopter walks too slowly, the quadcopter will slow down until the person catches up.


When Rotti was asked whether the kid in the video was really from Harvard or an actor, Ratti laughed, “It’s worse than that… he’s from Yale.” Everyone else laughed, too. I went to college in the Northwest, but I laughed along just so nobody suspected anything.

The SkyCall system is currently a prototype of sorts, but it’s part of “a larger development program that is currently underway at Senseable City Lab, with the broader aim of exploring novel, positive uses of UAV technology in the urban context,” according to the project’s site.