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IROS 2013: Quadrotor Wheel Can Fly, Float, and Roll

A novel design allows this quadrotor to roll along the ground

2 min read
IROS 2013: Quadrotor Wheel Can Fly, Float, and Roll

One of the things that we love most about IROS are the completely novel robot designs that show up out of nowhere. MUWA or "Multi-field Universal Wheel for Air-land Vehicle" (and also Japanese for "Dream Ring") is one of these designs: it's a quadrotor surrounded by a circular piece of foam that makes it capable of (among many other things) balancing itself sideways like a wheel and rolling along the ground.

MUWA's big foam ring makes contact with obstacles, water, or the ground not much of an issue, but the secret to the balancing tricks and wheel motion is that unlike most quadrotors, MUWA is equipped with independently controllable variable pitch propellers (+/- 20 degrees of pitch) that can direct thrust in two opposite directions, allowing it to stand up into a vertical position from the ground: 

MUWA can also roll, rotate, and even roll while maintaining an arbitrary angle relative to the ground.

There are a few reasons why these capabilities are relevant. First, it gives the quadrotor ways to move around without always having to expend energy flying. Second, by rolling, MUWA can squeeze through vertical gaps that it wouldn't be able to while flying horizontally. And by getting MUWA to do things like rotate around a point on the ground while changing its angle ("tornado motion," the researchers call it), a Kinect sensor on the robot can rapidly build up a complete 3D map of its surroundings.

The next generation of MUWA promises to be able to use its wheel motion on water, and somehow, it'll also be able to demonstrate "vertical attitude flight."

"MUWA: Multi-field Universal Wheel for Air-land Vehicle with Quad Variable-pitch Propellers," by Koji Kawasaki, Moju Zhao, Kei Okada, and Masayuki Inaba from the University of Tokyo, was presented yesterday at IROS 2013 in Japan.

[ University of Tokyo JSK ]


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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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