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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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

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

"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.

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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