Quadrotor Learns How Not To Swing Stuff

Researchers develop an algorithm that allows a UAV to carry a slung load without swinging it all over the place

1 min read
Quadrotor Learns How Not To Swing Stuff

One of the ways in which robots are just starting to get really useful is with hauling aerial cargo. Last year, the optionally-manned KMAX made its first autonomous cargo delivery in Afghanistan, and since it can fly as many missions as you have fuel to keep it going, it's definitely a safer and more efficient way to get supplies to troops, especially in dangerous areas.

To move cargo around, helicopters (autonomous or otherwise) often carry stuff slung beneath them on long ropes, and as you can probably imagine, said cargo often ends up doing all sorts of swinging about, especially if the helicopter that's carrying it has to maneuver. Researchers from the University of New Mexico have been developing algorithms that allow robots to compensate for motion-induced swinging of suspended loads, and testing them out on real live quadrotors.

Essentially, what the quadrotor is doing here is dynamically adjusting its trajectory to damp out the swinging motion of its cargo (think tacos). It's sort of like an upside-down version of pendulum balancing, with maybe a little bit of this insane hinged stick balancing thrown in for good measure. Next, the researchers plan to see if they can get their algorithms to work on platforms that are less balanced (and more realistic), which (they say) should be "an important step towards developing the next generation of autonomous aerial vehicles."

Trajectory Generation for Swing-Free Maneuvers of a Quadrotor with Suspended Payload: A Dynamic Programming Approach, by Ivana Palunko, Rafael Fierro, and Patricio Cruz from the University of New Mexico, was presented last month at the 2012 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in St. Paul, Minn.

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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
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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
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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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