Delivery Drones Use Bird-Inspired Legs to Jump Into the Air

Passerine’s fixed-wing drones can take off (and land) using a pair of legs Drones have a fundamental design problem. The kind of drone that can carry large payloads at high speeds over long distances is fundamentally different from the kind of drone that can take off and land from a small area. In very simple terms, for the former, you want fixed wings, and for the latter, you want rotors. This problem has resulted in a bunch of weird drones that try to do both of these things at once, usually by combining desired features from fixed-wing drones and rotorcraft. We’ve seen tail-sitter drones that can transition from vertical take off to horizontal flight; we’ve seen drones with propeller systems that swivel; and we’ve seen a variety of airframes that are essentially quadrotors stapled to fixed-wing aircraft to give them vertical take-off and landing capability. These sorts of compromises do Continue reading Delivery Drones Use Bird-Inspired Legs to Jump Into the Air

How to Dig a Hole With Two Drones and a Parachute

A small drone equipped with a digging tool gets a lift from a larger drone to travel long distances The NIMBUS Lab at the University of Nebraska has been developing drones that have the unique ability to dig holes in the ground and then fill those holes with sensors. If this sounds like a complicated task, that’s because it is: The drone needs to be able to carry a portable digging system a useful distance, locate a diggable spot, land, verify that the spot it thought was diggable is in fact diggable, dig a hole and install the sensor, and then fly off again. At IROS late last year, folks from the NIMBUS Lab presented a paper detailing a rather burly quadcopter that could carry an auger with an embedded sensor and use it to place the sensor in the ground (you can see a video of this in action Continue reading How to Dig a Hole With Two Drones and a Parachute

Foldable Drone Changes Its Shape in Mid-Air

This quadrotor can alter its shape in flight depending on where it needs to go Quadrotors are fast, cheap, and capable, and they’re getting smarter all the time. Where they struggle a little bit is with adaptation. Many other kinds of robots can change their structure to better perform different tasks: Humanoids do it all the time, with all those conveniently placed limbs. Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if drones had movable limbs too? Yes, it would. Someone should figure out how to do that.

Maryland Test Confirms Drones Can Safely Deliver Human Organs

A kidney was flown thousands of meters by a drone without incurring any damage When a patient who needs an organ transplantation is finally matched with a donor, every second matters. A longer wait between when an organ is removed from a donor and when it is placed into a recipient is associated with poorer organ function following transplantation. To maximize the chances of success, organs must be shipped from A to B as quickly and as safely as possible—and a recent test run suggests that drones are up to the task. One transplant surgeon’s personal experience at the operating table, waiting for organs to arrive, prompted him to think of new forms of delivery. “I frequently encounter situations where there’s simply no way to get an organ to me fast enough to do a transplant, and then those life-saving organs do not get transplanted into my patient,” says Dr. Continue reading Maryland Test Confirms Drones Can Safely Deliver Human Organs

Tiny Drones Team Up to Open Doors

Drones take a cue from wasps to manipulate objects 40 times their own mass In a move inspired by natural engineering, robotics researchers have demonstrated how tiny palm-size drones can forcefully tug objects 40 times their own mass by anchoring themselves to the ground or to walls. It’s a glimpse into how small drones could more actively manipulate their environment in a way similar to that of humans or larger robots. “Teams of these drones could work cooperatively to perform more complex manipulation tasks,” says Matt Estrada, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering at Stanford University. “We demonstrated opening a door, but this approach could be extended to turning a ball valve, moving a piece of debris, or retrieving an object of interest from a disaster zone.” 

Quadrotor Maintains High Speed Flight With Just Three Rotors

If you don’t mind a little spinning, quadrotors can operate just fine as trirotors In 2014, we wrote about some failsafe software from ETH Zurich that allowed a quadrotor to remain fully controllable even with one busted motor. The unbalanced torque generated by three motors means that a quadrotor can’t help but spin, but with a bit of cleverness, software can compensate for the spin and keep the quadrotor stable and even allow it to obey control inputs, allowing it to land more or less safely. This is a valuable capability, but there are a few things that it doesn’t address. For example, what if your quadrotor loses a rotor over an unsafe area? What if something happens to it when it’s already traveling at a high speed? Or what if it’s trying to deliver something and really needs to make it to its destination, no matter what? At IROS Continue reading Quadrotor Maintains High Speed Flight With Just Three Rotors

New FAA Rules for Drones Go Into Effect

The 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act brings a new regime for recreational flyers Last week saw the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act become law, and the new legislation has quite a few implications for people who fly small drones or model aircraft as a hobby. Before diving into the latest changes, it’s worth reviewing how the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has regulated such things in the past.

Are Delivery Drones Commercially Viable? Iceland Is About to Find Out

The Icelandic startup Aha takes on Amazon with basic drones bearing burgers Photo: Aha Air Drop: Aha’s drone delivery service operates until 7 p.m. in Reykjavik on days that are not too windy, too snowy, or too rainy. An Icelandic startup called Aha is using a Chinese-made drone and an Israeli logistics system to deliver hot food, groceries, and electronics to households in Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik. It’s a world’s first, and one that flouts the standard aviation safety mantras. These drones don’t sense and avoid ­obstacles—in fact, they don’t even have cameras, radar, or any other imaging systems. They fly according to GPS coordinates, along routes certified free of trees, buildings, and other impediments. And with some 500 deliveries completed in the past five months, no injuries have been reported. It works like this: You punch your order into an app on your smartphone (“Two hamburgers, hold the Continue reading Are Delivery Drones Commercially Viable? Iceland Is About to Find Out

Eye-Tracking Glasses Are All You Need to Control This Drone

This method of flying drones is one of the easiest we’ve ever pointed our eyeballs at Despite the ubiquity of drones nowadays, it seems to be generally accepted that learning how to control them properly is just too much work. Consumer drones are increasingly being stuffed full of obstacle-avoidance systems, based on the (likely accurate) assumption that most human pilots are to some degree incompetent. It’s not that humans are entirely to blame, because controlling a drone isn’t the most intuitive thing in the world, and to make it easier, roboticists have been coming up with all kinds of creative solutions. There’s body control, face control, and even brain control, all of which offer various combinations of convenience and capability. The more capability you want in a drone control system, usually the less convenient it is, in that it requires more processing power or infrastructure or brain probes or whatever. Continue reading Eye-Tracking Glasses Are All You Need to Control This Drone

Insect-Inspired Vision System Helps Drones Pass Through Small Gaps

Drones that mimic insect behavior negotiate gaps with just a monocular camera Insects are quite good at not running into things, and just as good at running into things and surviving, but targeted, accurate precision flight is much more difficult for them. As cute as insects like bees are, there just isn’t enough space in their fuzzy little noggins for fancy sensing and computing systems. Despite their small size, though, bees are able to perform precise flight maneuvers, and it’s a good thing, too, since often their homes are on the other side of holes not much bigger than they are. Bees make this work through a sort of minimalist brute-force approach to the problem: They fly up to a small hole or gap, hover, wander back and forth a little bit to collect visual information about where the edges of the gap, and then steer themselves through. It’s not Continue reading Insect-Inspired Vision System Helps Drones Pass Through Small Gaps