Good Ideas: DARPA Program Adds Giant Robot Arm to UAV

It's no tacocopter, but this grasping UAV is still scarily impressive

2 min read
Good Ideas: DARPA Program Adds Giant Robot Arm to UAV

Hey, you know what would be cool? Mounting a giant frikkin' robot arm on a giant frikkin' UAV. And since overall coolness seems to be the #1 criteria that DARPA uses to decide whether or not to pay someone a bunch of money to get a robot to do something (we heartily approve of this), we now have a giant frikkin' robot arm on a giant frikkin' UAV. Thanks, DARPA, and you're welcome, universe.

And here's DARPA to tell you all about it:

When a person reaches out to place an object in just the right place, their mind makes a series of judgments requiring vision, stability and careful movement. Trying to do the same thing robotically from a hovering unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) requires several technology advances. A DARPA-funded technology demonstration recently finished a successful testing of vision-driven robotic-arm payload emplacement using MLB Company’s (Santa Clara, California) tail-sitter UAV, V-Bat. This UAV is capable of both hover and wing-borne flight, making the delivery and precision emplacement of a payload possible. A special robotic arm was designed with the capability of carrying up to 1 pound.

The research team designed and developed a low-cost vision system to estimate the target’s position relative to the hovering vehicle in real time. This vision system enables the UAV to search and find the target for the emplacement autonomously and then perform the action.

DARPA’s precision emplacement technology demonstration paves the way for precise long-range delivery of small payloads into difficult-to-reach environments.

“Our goal with the UAV payload emplacement demonstration was to show we could quickly develop and integrate the right technology to make this work,” said Dan Patt, DARPA program manager. “The success of the demonstration further enables the capabilities of future autonomous aerial vehicles.”

During this technology demonstration, the MLB Company-built V-Bat successfully demonstrated:

  • A newly developed stereo vision system that tracks the emplacement target and motion of the robotic arm.  The vision system, coupled with global positioning system, controls the arm and  V-Bat during emplacement.
  • Control logic to maneuver the vehicle and direct the robotic arm to accurately engage the emplacement target.
  • Vehicle stability with the arm extended 6 feet with a 1-pound payload.
  • Autonomous search and detection of the emplacement target and autonomously emplaced a 1-pound payload.

This is certainly not the first UAV to feature grasping capability, although it may very well be the largest. We've also seen examples from UPenn's GRASP Lab:

As well as Yale's Aerial Manipulator:

Good stuff, guys, but we're all still holding out for a working tacocopter.

[ V-BAT ] via [ DARPA ]

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By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

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