Zipline Emphasizes Safety With Its Delivery Drones in Preparation for U.S. Operations

Medical deliveries are scheduled to start in North Carolina in June, but how safe is safe enough for a delivery drone? Later this year, Zipline will bring its fleet of medical delivery drones (read more about them here) to North Carolina to take part in the Federal Aviation Administration’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP). Zipline will be working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation “to set up a network of medical distribution centers that can use drones to make medical deliveries,” which is what Zipline has been doing for several years now in Africa. The FAA is being very careful and methodical with the IPP, because there are a lot of unknowns about how commercial drones can be safely and effectively integrated into a complex, crowded airspace over a crowded, complex country. Zipline is in a unique position to show both North Carolina and the FAA what’s possible with drones, Continue reading Zipline Emphasizes Safety With Its Delivery Drones in Preparation for U.S. Operations

FAA Updates Drone Rules for Everyone

New FAA rules change identification requirements for all consumer drones while making it a bit easier to fly at night or over people The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is still working to figure out the best way of making sure that people fly their drones safely and legally. It’s very much a work in progress, and has been for years. At this point, anyone who wants to fly a drone weighing more than 250 grams (even just for fun in the backyard) must register that drone and follow some generally common sense rules and regulations. The FAA, to their credit, has been keeping track of how this has all been going, and late last week they announced a few important updates.

Penny-Sized Ionocraft Flies With No Moving Parts

A drone powered by electrohydrodynamic thrust is the smallest flying robot ever made Insect-scale flying robots are usually designed to mimic biological insects, because biological insects are masters of efficient small-scale flying. These flapping-wing micro air vehicles (FMAVS) approach the size of real insects, and we’ve seen some impressive demonstrations of bee-sized robots that can take off, hover, and even go for a swim. Making a tiny robot with flapping wings that can move in all of the degrees of freedom necessary to keep it controllable is tricky, though, requiring complicated mechanical transmissions and complicated software as well. It’s understandable why the biomimetic approach is the favored one—insects have had a couple hundred million years to work out all the kinks, and the other ways in which we’ve figured out how to get robots to fly under their own power (namely, propeller-based systems) don’t scale down to small sizes very Continue reading Penny-Sized Ionocraft Flies With No Moving Parts

Drones Help Rid Galapagos Island of Invasive Rats

Fast and efficient, drones are a versatile new tool against invasive species The Galapagos Islands are famous for their exotic wildlife, which in most cases is not nearly as afraid of humans as it should be. Humans have done some seriously horrible things to the animals living there, like packing thousands of giant tortoises upside down on ships because they would stay alive without food or water for months and could then be eaten. People traveling to and living in the Galapagos have caused other serious problems to the fragile ecosystem: In addition to devastating oil spills, humans have introduced numerous invasive species to the islands. In particular, goats, which were brought on purpose, and rats, which were brought accidentally, have been catastrophic for endemic animal populations.  For decades, the Galapagos National Park Directorate (DPNG) has been working to remove invasive species island by island, including tens of thousands of feral goats, pigs, Continue reading Drones Help Rid Galapagos Island of Invasive Rats

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