When Missy Cummings, assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, and her students at MIT’s Humans and Automation Lab—HAL for short—discussed designing a new robot controller to streamline the interaction between humans and computers, the ever-practical MIT students suggested an iPhone app, because, well, they could all score free iPhones.

Six weeks later, Cummings and a team of 30 debuted the app in a test flight to control an airborne drone via the iPhone’s accelerometer. Watch the flight below.

The app sends GPS coordinates to the robot—commercially available, I might add—which it uses to navigate. All the user has to do is tap new waypoints onto the map display. The robot, or micro aerial vehicle (MAV), also contains a collision avoidance system and can stream video or photos back to the iPhone.

One application for what’s dubbed MAV-VUE (visualization of unexplored environments) is a lightweight way for soldiers to control unmanned aerial vehicles. Professor Cummings has another idea for how civilians could benefit. Find out what it is in this Wired article.

This iPhone metal detector was developed by Adam Eisenman SM ’07. Not sure how well it would work at the beach for treasure hunters, but think how handy it could be at the airport. Find all that hidden change that will set off the detectors ahead of time. However you’d want to use it, it’s pretty cool. See it in action.

Are you an MIT alum with a nifty new iPhone app to share? Let us know in the comments and we may feature it in an upcoming blog post.