Microdrones Film Confused African Wildlife

A quadrotor carrying a video camera turns out to be a brilliant way to get some absolutely amazing wildlife footage

1 min read
Microdrones Film Confused African Wildlife

microdrones md4-1000 film african wildlife

It's a well known fact that animals from the Arctic to Africa have absolutely no idea what to think about robots. Taking full advantage of this phenomenon, Microdrones let one of their MD4-1000 quadrotors loose on safari in Kenya, and it set about capturing video like you've probably never seen before.

While I'm not one to spout propaganda about how robots are revolutionizing every aspect of our lives (okay, I totally am), this is an entirely new way of filming animals that's just beginning to be explored through trial and error. We're used to watching animals from afar through gigantic zoom lenses, but small flying robots offer the opportunity to get in the middle of things without causing too much of a ruckus, and this is just one of the first tentative stabs at a whole new world of footage that would do David Attenborough proud. And it's not just for animals, either: imagine flying one of these things into an erupting volcano.

It looks like these clips are part of a show that Microdrones is putting together for TBS Television Japan, but we'll make sure and let you know if it ever shows up online.

[ Microdrones ]

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

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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

“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.

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

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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