Epic Quadrotor Fails Caught on Video

Quadrotors are capable of some amazing autonomous tricks, but things don't always go as planned

1 min read

UPenn's GRASP Lab has done some absolutely spectacular things with quadrotors. They've taught them to fly in formation, build structures, and even fling themselves through narrow windows. But as with every learning process, there are going to be some cases where things just don't go quite right, and when you're dealing with fast moving autonomous robots with four spinning rotors apiece, sometimes tests can be, to quote UPenn, "spectacularly unsuccessful":

Spectacular is right. I'm not sure what exactly caused the attempted backstab at 0:20 or the mass suicide at 0:28, but all those violent quadrotor deaths were pretty funny to see. You know, for science.

Oh, and props to the GRASP Lab quadrotor team for sharing their failures along with their successes.

[ UPenn GRASP Lab ]

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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