Flapping Robotic Birdplane Lands Right on Your Hand

This MAV from the University of Illinois can make pinpoint landings on your outstretched hand

2 min read
Flapping Robotic Birdplane Lands Right on Your Hand

There are lots of innovative ways of landing robotic aircraft, from cables to parachutes to controlled crashes. Arguably, none of these ways are ideal, with ideal referring to an aircraft that makes a gentle landing just exactly where you want it. Say, right on the back of your hand. 

Part of what makes this robot (under development at the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) so cool is the fact that it uses flapping wings for extra maneuverability and, one has to assume, at least a little bit of thrust. This bio-inspired model (based on birds and bats) can reorient its wings while gliding, providing glide-phase control without a bunch of extra complicated and heavy actuators. It's highly effective control, too, and allows a thrown micro air vehicle (MAV) to make a pinpoint landing on the back of an outstretched hand:

Getting robots to perch isn't a new idea, although this level of control certainly is. In the past, we've seen small robotic aircraft from Stanford's Biomimetics Lab that perform similar pitch-up stall-type maneuvers to perch on vertical surfaces using little claws, as well as planes that can perch on wires from MIT. And of course, there's that MAV from EPFL that just smashes head first into whatever it wants to land on and then sticks. But the type of perching that the UIUC team has come up with seems to be much more versatile (if a little bit lab constrained) way to do it, since the MAV is presumably capable of landing on more or less anything, just like a bird. 

Of course, you can get this same type of precision performance out of rotorcraft, but you don't get anywhere close to the level of endurance that fixed wing aircraft offer, which is why this is potentially an ideal solution: long cruise times combined with pinpoint landings, and if they can get this thing to take off again, they'll have it made.

The technical details of this work can be found in A. Paranjape, J. Kim, and S.-J. Chung, "Closed-Loop Perching of Aerial Robots with Articulated Flapping Wings," IEEE Transactions on Robotics, under review, 2012, with a pre-release paper available here.

[ Illinois Engineering ] via [ GigaOM ]

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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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