In addition to helping first responders, performing inspections, and carrying messages, flying robots are helping in building construction. Flying machine-enabled construction was demonstrated in an installation exhibited earlier this year at France's Fond Regionale d'Art Contemporain du Centre. The method has been pioneered by Raffaello D'Andrea, professor of dynamic systems and control at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. The installation was an architectural structure 6m high and 3.5m in diameter, developed in collaboration with architectural firm Gramazio & Kohler. The structure was assembled by autonomous flying machines working in parallel and acting cooperatively. The quadrotors were programmed to interact, lift, carry, and assemble the structure, built of 1,500 prefabricated, polystyrene, bricked-shaped modules.
(Source: Raffaello D'Andrea)
@Ann: Thanks for this. The image of the flying penguins was particularly cool.
Usually, when engineers look to the natural world for inspiration, they look to the animal kingdom. But plants actually provide many examples of mechanical motion, too; to convince yourself of this, just watch how flowers open and close, or how a grapevine climbs up a trellis, or (as an extreme example) how a Venus flytrap catches a bug. A recent book describes a number of plant-inspired aerial technologies, including an electrochemical actuator to control the twist of a helicopter blade.
My personal favorites are the Festo machines, especially AirPenguin and AirJelly, just because they seem so improbable, as well as being beautifully designed. But the part of me that comes from my ME grandpa is fascinated by the miniature swarming helicopters.
I think the key to a lot of this interesting work is the miniaturization that has happened in control systems and powertrains. The smaller cameras and radio devices make this technology quite useful. More applications will develop as the technology progresses. 6 axis motion control, location and obstacle sensors coupled with computer controls and data relays will find many many applications.
Each of these machines might find a different application based on specific requirements. Some will need to go fast, some carry loads, some perform reconnaissance and others might be just for fun.
Thanks for your insightful (as usual) comments, Ivan. The small size and amazing abilities of some of the tiniest robot flyers are impressive, and couldn't be done without much smaller, more efficient and more powerful components, including the ones you mention. Cameras and silicon are kind of obvious in the shrinking component department, but controllers and motors have taken longer to get miniaturized. Regarding the fun element, I found it interesting that at least one of these, MIT's Phoenix, originally started as a redesigned hobbyist craft. I wonder how many others began in a similar way?
It is interesting too see the items that were based on hobbies. My son has an Airhogs RC copter that actually takes downloadable video. At $60 retail, this is great miniatuarization as well as great cost reduction to make the product affordable. On the slideshow, the Air Penguin is pretty neat. Great article.
Ann, I really enjoy your robot stories. The AirBurr looks strange but is really cool robot. I especially like it can stand its self back up and return to flight without human intervention, even though I can't visualize how it can accomplish this. I would have loved to seem that in action.
I've seen several videos of the U of PA robots. I love them playing music.
Ann, although all of the devices are marvelous, I too was taken by the two helium-filled lighter-than-air devices. I would expect very long flight times for these, as power is only used for control and accelleration, and not in keeping the craft airborne. Very stealthy sound-wise also....