Quadrotor With Tilting Propellers Can Twist in Midair

Some extra degrees of freedom give this quadrotor the ability to pitch and roll while hovering

2 min read
Quadrotor With Tilting Propellers Can Twist in Midair

Conventional quadrotors are what’s called underactuated robots, which means that they can move in more ways than they have independent control over. For example, they can happily yaw around to any angle you want while otherwise stationary, but if you ask them to pitch or roll, they can’t do it without also changing their position: if you try to roll a quadrotor left, the whole robot is going to fly left, and if you try to fly a quadrotor left, the whole robot is going to roll left.

Having controls coupled together like this places some restrictions on what you can do with quadrotors, but a new design presented yesterday at the 2013 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) gets around all of that with propellers that tilt.

This level of control turns the quadrotor into a fully-actuated robot: you have complete control over its position and orientation, and as the video shows, this lets the quadrotor do things that would otherwise be impossible for a conventional quadrotor without those tilting propellers.

There are tons of ways in which this new capability can be useful, but I’d say the most obvious one is for any quadrotor that carries a camera (which is pretty much all of them nowadays): instead of having to either rely on a static camera or invest in a complicated, heavy, and expensive gimbaled mount, you can now use the entire quadrotor as a pan and tilt camera platform.

Future work will improve the capabilities of this prototype (it’s called the “omnicopter”), and the researchers also plan to start experimenting with environmental interaction tasks that require orientation control, like using tools.

"First Flight Tests for a Quadrotor UAV with Tilting Propellers," by Markus Ryll, Heinrich H. Bulthoff, and Paolo Robuffo Giordano from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, was presented this week at ICRA 2013 in Germany.

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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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