Drones have been getting some major press lately, from devastating attacks in the Middle East to a “Texts From Drone” Tumblr. A new breed of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), created by researchers at Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS in Duisberg Germany, might be what’s needed to show off the benefits of such a device. A fleet of them flies in synchronous flight to record 3D images.

They're mini-helicopters equipped with CMOS sensors that image their surrounding in real time. That allows them to fly in close formation without colliding. The sensors also measure three-dimensional distances very efficiently. The sensors take in the visual information as pixels, and assign each one a gray value as well as a distance value. That allows the drones to determine their position in relation to other objects around them.

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Accuracy in images is essential to any situation the drones are surveying. They're capable of identifying even the smallest of objects, 20 by 15 centimeters from seven meters away, even when flying in the direction of light, the aerial sensors have proven to measure distance more accurately than radar, which measures distance using echoes.

Researchers hope that these UAVs can be used not only to monitor situations like the riots described in the Institute’s study, but also to aid in city planning by creating detailed 3D maps of area, which can prove to be vital in planning and inspecting a region for growth and sustainability. It’s also being touted as a more efficient and cost-effective way to obtain aerials visuals of an area when compared to the use of satellite imaging.