Transforming robot is more than meets the eye


Let’s face it – building robust robots isn’t exactly easy. When designing them, builders often focus on a single method of locomotion in attempts to create a robust, reliable means of transportation. Whether it moves on the ground or in the air, there are always compromises to be made when designing a robot with the ability to travel over variable terrain. Looking to change that, researchers at the Center for Distributed Robotics have recently unveiled a robot that can travel on the ground with ease, then take to the skies in a matter of seconds.

The robot is rolls along the ground on a set of wheels mounted at either end. When it is time to fly, it pushes itself up onto one end before extending its rotors. As you can see in the video below, the transition occurs pretty quickly.

The current prototype is pretty fragile and carries quite the hefty price tag . More robust revisions are already in the works, so expect to see more in the coming months.

[Thanks Sandeep]

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Human-powered quadcopter flies live tomorrow

A team from the University of Maryland will be taking their human-powered helicopter to the air tomorrow. The current flight record for this type of vehicle is just over 19 seconds of flight at a height of about 8 feet. What surprises us about this attempt is that they’re not pedaling just one main rotor. It seems that the most success in man-powered helicopter flight has come from helicopters with a total of four rotors.

The image seen above is a 2009 test of just one of the four rotor arms that will go into UMD’s finished chopper. Fully assembled it will be about 1/3 the size of a football field, dwarfing the autonomous quadcopters we usually see around here. Get the details about the design from the video after the break. It’s interesting to hear [Dr. Antonio Filipone] talk about the need to generate both the lift and the thrust, where human-powered fixed-wing aircraft only need the thrust. He predicts that human-powered helicopter flight is possible, but that it will only lift the aircraft, with little possibility of moving it in one direction or the other.

The team is attempting to grab the $250,000 Sikorsky Prize with their creation. We wish them the best of luck.

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Quadcopter pair plays table tennis without the table

This pair of quad-rotor helicopters does a better job of keeping a ping-pong ball in the air than we could. The two flying drones are performing inside of the flying machine arena, a 1000 cubic meter indoor space surrounded by nets with a foam-padded floor. This makes for a prototype-friendly space, protecting the copters from hard landings and the experimenters from the maiming that might accompany a runaway robot.

This project is headed by researcher [Raffaello D’Andrea]. Previously, we’ve seen his work on a distributed flight array. This time around he’s not working with configurable modules, but completely separate units. Don’t miss the video after the break to see several iterations used to keep a ball in the air. Each bot has the head of a tennis racket mounted at its center. Throw a ball at them and they’ll to what they can to prevent it touching the ground.

While we’re on the topic, we caught a story on NPR about hobby drones. Sounds like their growing popularity has caught the attention of the non-hacker community and restrictions might be on the way. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and make your own flyer while it’s still the wild-west of personal drones.

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Toy helicopter charging fix

[Onefivefour] was surprised that his E-flite Blade MCX radio controlled helicopter came with a charger that used AA batteries to recharge the lithium batteries in the flying unit. Yeah, that’s a bit crazy. He set out to modify the base unit to work with AC power. There are four batteries inside this base unit, one of them powers the charge detector circuit and the others are used to juice-up the chopper’s rechargeable cells. He took a 5V regulated charger from a Motorola cellphone and modified it to interface with the contacts for the three AA cells. Like the Magic Trackpad hack, he did this without altering the holder by cutting a couple of pencils to length and attaching the positive and negative contacts from the AC charger to them. Check out the video after the break for a walk though, noting how he still has the option to go back to battery power if he so chooses.

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Helicopter POV display is a masterwork

helicopter hack LED mod

Yes! A radio control helicopter with a fairly high-resolution persistence-of-vision display is a beautiful thing. [Mziwisky’s] handiwork is the result of several steps along the prototyping path. He built up a POV test rig on a breadboard, designed his first PCB for the project, and then went to work building it. After initially being inspired by a POV ceiling fan [Mziwisky] looked around to see if anyone else had already added a display to a helicopter. Indeed, this has been done before but there were very few details on the build.

The helicopter has two blades and each have the same hardware on them and gobbled up about ten hours of assembly time each. He basically built a printed circuit board using the blades as a substrate by attaching adhesive copper foil. This makes up the matrix for the LEDs and connects to a small circuit board with an ATmega8 and some shift registers mounted on the inside end of the blade. There’s also a 180 mAh LiPo battery pack, and a hall effect sensor to synchronize the display on each. The results are spectacular, as you can see in the video after the break, but there’s a few bugs left to work out in order to fully tame the 32 LEDs on each rotor.

Kind of looks like the future is happening right now.

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Easy quadrotor helicopter instructions

Here’s a great tutorial on building your own quadrotor helicopter. This build isn’t necessarily less expensive than others we’ve seen since quality motors, propellers, and control circuitry aren’t cheap. But the design and assembly is well documented and presents a well-planned building procedure. The carbon-fiber tubes that make up the frame have extensions to protect the motors and propellers in the event of a crash. The Arduino, IMU, and transceiver are all tucked away between two aluminum body plates as well. They only thing missing is a solid methodology for tuning the four motors, a critical procedure that is just touched up at the end of the article.

Robotic helicopter that can grasp a payload

Like the Grand Theft Auto RC missions come to life, this helicopter can grasp objects for transport. They don’t have to be a special size or shape, and it can lift them even if they are not centered. This is thanks to a load-balancing hand (originally developed as a prosthesis) that relies on flexible joints and a tendon-like closing mechanism. As you can see in the video, the light-weight chopper has an on-board camera so that the operator can see what is being picked up. This little guy has no problem lifting objects that are over one kilogram while remaining stable in the air.

[Thanks Paul]