Sensitive Whiskers Could Make Small Drones Safer

This whisker sensing system can detect air pressure from objects even before they make physical contact Animals of all shapes and sizes have whiskers of some sort. Cats and dogs and rodents have them. Seals have them too. Some birds have them, as do insects and fish. Whiskers have shown up across such a diversity of animals because they’re an efficient and effective method of short range sensing. Besides just being able to detect objects that they come into direct contact with, whiskers can also sense fluid flows (like the speed and direction of moving air or water), and they work even if it’s dark or foggy or smoky.  While we’ve seen some research on whiskers before—I’m sure you remember the utterly adorable ShrewBot—there hasn’t been too much emphasis on adding whiskers to robots, likely because lidar and cameras offer more useful data at longer ranges. And that’s totally fine, Continue reading Sensitive Whiskers Could Make Small Drones Safer

Amazon Redesigns Its Prime Air Delivery Drone

Amazon is finally starting to address some of the actual challenges with drone delivery, making us slightly less skeptical Amazon has been working away at its Prime Air urban and suburban drone delivery for years. Many years. It’s been at least half a decade now. And for the entire time, we’ve been complaining that Amazon has been focusing on how to build drones that can physically transport objects rather than how to build drones that can safely and reliably transport objects in a manner that makes economic sense and that people actually want. At its re:MARS conference today, Amazon showed off a brand-new version of its Prime Air drone. The design is certainly unique, featuring a hybrid tailsitter design with 6 degrees of freedom, but people have been futzing with weird drone designs for a long time, and this may or may not be a.) what Amazon has actually settled on Continue reading Amazon Redesigns Its Prime Air Delivery Drone

To Fly Solo, Racing Drones Have a Need for AI Speed Training

The U.S. military and defense industry see drone racing as a new frontier for AI development Drone racing’s ultimate vision of quadcopters weaving nimbly through obstacle courses has attracted far less excitement and investment than self-driving cars aimed at reshaping ground transportation. But the U.S. military and defense industry are betting on autonomous drone racing as the next frontier for developing AI so that it can handle high-speed navigation within tight spaces without human intervention.

Tanzania’s Homegrown Drone Industry Takes Off on Bamboo Wings

Bamboo drones are just one way that local companies hope to meet Tanzania’s needs Photo: Evan Ackerman Locally Sourced: Bornlove Ntikha uses bamboo for the frame of his DIY drone. Ntikha wants to show that drones can be built out of locally available materials, which will make them cheaper and more accessible. It’s late afternoon on the shores of Tanzania’s Lake Victoria, and Bornlove Ntikha is building a drone out of bamboo. One large piece forms the body of the drone, and smaller crosspieces are secured with zip ties. The motors at the ends of the crosspieces are held in place with 3D-printed mounts; more zip ties and tape keep the battery and electronics in place. With a small handsaw, Ntikha trims some bamboo twigs down to size. He’s decided that his drone needs longer landing legs. Gif: IEEE Spectrum “In Swahili we call it ‘mianzi drone,’ for the Swahili word Continue reading Tanzania’s Homegrown Drone Industry Takes Off on Bamboo Wings

Photo Essay: Tornadoes and Frisky Birds Couldn’t Stop These Delivery Drones

At the Lake Victoria Challenge, cargo drones showed off their capabilities Gif: Johnny Miller In October of 2018, the World Bank and the Government of Tanzania cosponsored the first Lake Victoria Challenge (LVC). Set on the southern shore of Lake Victoria, in the city of Mwanza, the event is intended to promote the development of delivery drones. It’s a good spot for such a gathering; Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa, and the towns and villages scattered across its islands and along its shores could benefit from drones that transport goods. Photo: Evan Ackerman In addition to a symposium on drone policy, the LVC featured demos from a handful of European delivery-drone companies. The German company Wingcopter flew its high-speed cargo drone, which has a range of 100 kilometers and a maximum payload of 6 kilograms. The drone takes off vertically, then its propellers rotate 90 degrees for Continue reading Photo Essay: Tornadoes and Frisky Birds Couldn’t Stop These Delivery Drones

Event Camera Helps Drone Dodge Thrown Objects

Watch this drone not get hit by a soccer ball Davide Scaramuzza’s Robotics and Perception Group at the University of Zurich pioneered the use of event cameras on drones. We first wrote about event cameras back in 2014: These are sensors that are not good at interpreting a scene visually like a regular camera, but they’re extremely sensitive to motion, responding to changes in a scene on a per-pixel basis in microseconds. A regular camera that detects motion by comparing one frame with another takes milliseconds to do the same thing, which might not seem like much, but for a fast-moving drone it could easily be the difference between crashing into something and avoiding it successfully. In a paper recently accepted to IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, Davide Falanga and Suseong Kim from Scaramuzza’s group take a look at exactly how much of a difference it can make to use Continue reading Event Camera Helps Drone Dodge Thrown Objects

Tech Expedition: East Africa’s Big Bet on Drones

null Tech Expedition: East Africa’s Big Bet On Drones Supported by the IEEE Foundation IEEE Spectrum reporters traveled across East Africa with their own drones and 360 video cameras to capture new perspectives on the growing drone industry. In Rwanda and Tanzania, they visited companies and met entrepreneurs who are setting an example for the rest of the world. Feature: In the Air with Zipline’s Medical Delivery Drones Commercial operations in Rwanda prove the startup can deliver emergency blood packs in minutes, rather than hours 360 Video: Go on a Mission with Zipline, Africa’s First Drone Delivery Compay Immerse yourself in the action as Zipline catapults its drones into the Rwandan sky Feature: Tanzania’s Home-Grown Drone Industry Preps for Takeoff Bamboo drones are just one of the ways local companies hope to meet Tanzania’s needs [Coming Soon] 360 Video: Zoom Over Zanzibar and Launch From Lake Victoria See Tanzania with the drone startups that Continue reading Tech Expedition: East Africa’s Big Bet on Drones

360 Video: Zoom Over Zanzibar With Tanzania’s Drone Startups

Come along for the ride as drones soar over the farms and schools of Tanzania With 360-degree video, IEEE Spectrum puts you aboard drones that are flying high above the Tanzanian landscape: You’ll ride along as drones soar above farms, towns, and the blue expanse of Lake Victoria. You’ll also meet the local entrepreneurs who are creating a new industry, finding applications for their drones in land surveying and delivery. And you’ll get a close-up view from a bamboo grove as a drone pilot named Bornlove builds a flying machine from bamboo and other materials. You can follow the action in a 360-degree video in three ways: 1) Watch on your computer, using your mouse to click and drag on the video; 2) watch on your phone, moving the phone around to change your view; or 3) watch on a VR headset for the full immersive experience. For more stories Continue reading 360 Video: Zoom Over Zanzibar With Tanzania’s Drone Startups

This Robot Hummingbird Is Almost as Agile as the Real Thing

Purdue roboticists have built a bio-inspired micro air vehicle that flies much like a real hummingbird Hummingbirds are some of the most nimble fliers on Earth. Their speed and agility are spectacular, driven by the complex muscles that control their wings. This is a difficult system for robots to emulate, and in general, the small winged robots that we’ve seen have relied on compromises in control in order to be able to use flapping wings for flight. At Purdue University’s Bio-Robotics Lab, Xinyan Deng and her students are taking a very deliberately bio-inspired approach towards winged robotic flight that has resulted in one of the most capable robotic hummingbirds we’ve ever seen. It’s just about the same size and shape as the real thing, and the researchers hope it will be able to perform the same sorts of acrobatic maneuvers as an actual hummingbird. And more importantly, it’s robust enough Continue reading This Robot Hummingbird Is Almost as Agile as the Real Thing

IEEE Spectrum Introduces Drones and 360 Video to Its Reporting

To produce 360 videos, reporters navigated technical challenges and red tape Reporters used to head out into the field with nothing but a notebook. But when IEEE Spectrum associate editor Michael Koziol [left] and contributing editor Evan Ackerman [right] traveled to East Africa last October, they had plenty more gear to schlep. In addition to their laptops and digital recorders, they brought two DJI drones and an assortment of 360-degree video cameras.  The trip was part of an experiment in immersive storytelling. Koziol and Ackerman journeyed through Rwanda and Tanzania to report on pioneering companies that are using small consumer drones for such tasks as delivering medical supplies and surveying roads. The two gathered material for several articles, including a feature story about a company called Zipline that’s delivering blood to Rwanda’s rural hospitals. They also sent their own drones aloft bearing their cameras, capturing footage for two videos included Continue reading IEEE Spectrum Introduces Drones and 360 Video to Its Reporting