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sFly Quadrotors Navigate Outdoors All By Themselves

No GPS, no Vicon, no nothing: these quadrotors can navigate anywhere

2 min read
sFly Quadrotors Navigate Outdoors All By Themselves

Quadrotors are famous for being able to pull allsorts ofcrazystunts, but inevitably, somewhere in the background of the amazing video footage of said crazy stunts you'll notice the baleful red glow of a Vicon motion tracking system. Now, we don't want to call this cheating or anything, but we're certainly looking forward to the day when quadrotors can do this outside of a lab, and the sFly project is helping to make this happen.

What makes the sFly project, led by ETH Zurich's Autonomous Systems Lab, different is that the sFly quadrotors don't rely on motion capture systems. They also don't rely on GPS, remote control, radio beacons, laser rangefinders, frantically waving undergrads, or anything else. The only thing that sFly has to go on is an IMU and an onboard camera (and an integrated computer), but using just those systems (and a "very efficient onboard inertial-aided visual simultaneous localization and mapping algorithm"), sFly is capable of navigating all by itself. And if you have a fleet of sFly quadrotors, you can use them to make cooperative 3D maps of the environment:

Each quadrotor is completely autonomous, but they're also equipped with two extra cameras that stream stereo imagery back to a central computer over GSM or Wi-Fi that takes the data from several quadrotors and combines it into an overall 3D model of the environment as a whole. Then, the computer can guide each robot to an optimal surveillance site. The idea here is that you'd be able to rapidly deploy an sFly system with a swarm autonomous quadrotors in a disaster area or somewhere else without any infrastructure (or even a GPS signal) and still be able to take advantage of some clever autonomous aerial mapping.

[ sFly ]

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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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