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Power The Military

Micro Plane That Perches On Power Lines 192

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the look-up-in-the-air dept.
An anonymous reader wrote in to tell us about a microplane that perches on power lines to recharge its batteries being developed as a surveillance device at MIT. As you can imagine, landing on a power line is hard to do ... and charging off transmission lines has its own problems.
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Micro Plane That Perches On Power Lines

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  • Perch? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @11:33AM (#32990734) Journal

    Would it be easier if it were more bat-like, hanging from the line instead of perching?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by swanzilla (1458281)
      The 'perch' is actually quite bat-like. FTA:

      The MIT engineers' answer is to send their 30-centimetre-wide micro air vehicle (MAV) into a controlled stall, pointing its nose up at just the right point in its trajectory to collide with and hook onto the cable.

      Once it hooks the cable, it is a passive system. Check the video...it hasn't been /.ed (yet.)

      • Re:Perch? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by causality (777677) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @12:07PM (#32991226)

        The 'perch' is actually quite bat-like. FTA:

        The MIT engineers' answer is to send their 30-centimetre-wide micro air vehicle (MAV) into a controlled stall, pointing its nose up at just the right point in its trajectory to collide with and hook onto the cable.

        Once it hooks the cable, it is a passive system. Check the video...it hasn't been /.ed (yet.)

        This is all very interesting but ... do we really need another way to spy on people? One would wonder how the hell our ancestors managed to survive without living in a surveillance society.

        <hypothetical>It's getting to the point that there may be a market for portable personal EMP devices when battery or supercapacitor technology advances enough. Just fire an EMP burst every so often and take out any such devices that may be near you, assuring your privacy that shouldn't have been threatened in the first place. If that harms cell phones or the computers controlling car engines and such, just do what the government does and call it "collateral damage" in the "war for privacy". You'd be putting it in terms that they understand.</hypothetical>

        • Re:Perch? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by nospam007 (722110) * on Thursday July 22, 2010 @12:24PM (#32991492)

          "One would wonder how the hell our ancestors managed to survive without living in a surveillance society. "

          They believed that some old man in the sky was watching them all the time.

          • Re:Perch? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @01:15PM (#32992358) Journal
            “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” -Seneca.
        • Too bad that EMP probably won't work against mobile equipment, but will toast everything connected to any power line near you.

        • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

          One would wonder how the hell our ancestors managed to survive without living in a surveillance society.

          Every primitive society is a surveillance society. We invented privacy when we invented walls.

          So I guess the answer to your questions is, quite well, for between three and four billion years.

        • Re:Perch? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by westlake (615356) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @01:35PM (#32992686)

          This is all very interesting but ... do we really need another way to spy on people? One would wonder how the hell our ancestors managed to survive without living in a surveillance society.

          Your ancestors never knew what it was like to live outside a surveillance society.

          They might be Irish and Catholic, Russian and Jewish, Baptist and Negro - but the densely packed urban neighborhoods they inhabited were small towns writ large.

          The small town knows you by sight from the day you are born. It can recite every breath of scandal that has touched your family for the last five generations.

          There is one school, one church, one doctor, a general store, a post office....

          a saloon, and a gin mill....

          The saloon crowd more or less respectable and well-behaved. The gin mill - the road house just out of town - known to one and all for its drunkenness and danger.

           

          • by wsanders (114993)

            And that's my ancestors are NOT known as "Bruce the Bridge Builder", "Bruce the Fence Builder" ....

          • by dwye (1127395)
            And before the small town, there was the tribe and the band. Try keeping anything private when you all sleep in the same Great Hall, or in tents.

            Privacy is a fairly recent development, and had lots of detractors (Athenian democracy, for one, since people meeting together yet separate from the rest could be hatching all sorts of conspiracies).

        • by g0bshiTe (596213)
          Don't worry this will not really go anywhere. I fly R/C aircraft this things wingspan is so small that anything more than 5 mph wind would be too squirrely to fly. Notice all the videos are indoors with zero wind. I'd rather see this thing land on a line outside in real conditions. My bet it would land once out of a hundred attempts.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nedlohs (1335013)

      It does hang, just from a hook near the nose so it isn't upside down.

      Which would make actually hooking up *much* easier, since you need to be nose up which is why you can stall.

      Hooking up upside down would be really hard, pointing your nose down makes slowing down just a tad difficult.

      What I don't understand is how it is going to take off again. It'd need to unhook and flip nose down before it hit the ground with enough height left to get the speed to generate lift. That doesn't seem like such an easy thing

      • think harrier.
        • by nedlohs (1335013)

          If it can VTOL, then you don't need to bother hooking up with a controlled stall, so no.

        • by magarity (164372)

          Exactly... and to be more specific: all it needs is positive thrust to weight. Then taking off straight up is possible. Just need to drop enough to go around the wire from which it has just hung.

      • Re:Perch? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by wvmarle (1070040) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @12:01PM (#32991148)

        Hooking up nose down may be easier, come to think of it. Because then what you should do is basically land on top of the wire with a small forward speed, letting your aircraft slide forward until the hook mounted all the way at the tail catches the wire. Presto, hanging nose down.

        Getting off would be simple as well that way: retract the hook, fall down making speed, and just pull up the nose. Now just make sure you hang on a high enough wire.

        Taking off hanging nose up is a bit harder, I would guess a tail flip - also a quite standard manoeuvre but requires more height. Unless your engine is so powerful that you can accelerate straight up. Not likely for such a craft.

        • by blhack (921171)

          Not likely for such a craft.

          I wouldn't be so sure about that... The thing is made from very low-weight foam and brushless motors are getting to the point where this is a reality. Those little toy Air Hogs things, for instance, can do this (albeit on a much smaller scale). /Sidebar: wtf has happened to those things? 2 years ago, they were all over the place, now the only thing I ever see are those god-awful 2-axis helicopters.

        • by bar-agent (698856)

          Hooking up nose down may be easier, come to think of it. Because then what you should do is basically land on top of the wire with a small forward speed, letting your aircraft slide forward until the hook mounted all the way at the tail catches the wire. Presto, hanging nose down.

          Yeah, that would be easier. But the video mentions that they plan to adapt this stall-out technique for landing drones in confined areas. You can land nose-down as well, of course, but this is called "crashing."

      • by cgenman (325138)

        Spin the propeller up. Take off vertically. RC planes have enough power in the nose to do that.

      • by Xibby (232218)

        Shouldn't be a problem to take off from the power line. The electric motors used in R/C airplanes can generate enough thrust to hover a plane and all it's gear. Build the drone with two electric motors and counter rotating props and you could take off vertically (as well as hover) at full thrust (if that). Go up 50 feet, then turn off one of the motors to spin into nose dive position and kick the elevator to full climb to get back to horizontal flight. The great thing about R/C plans (and drones) is you can

      • It is probably light and powerfull enough to keep itselt flying even with the nose up (ok, not just like an helicopter, but with the same apearence).

      • Which would make actually hooking up *much* easier, since you need to be nose up which is why you can stall.

        Well...yes, but not exactly. You can still in any flight attitude (that is, angle between the longitudinal axis of the airplane and the ground). The only criteria to stalling is that the angle of attack (the angle between the chord line of the wing and the relative wind) exceed ~14 degrees or so (the exact angle is a function of the airfoil). Aerobatic pilots can stall their airplane even if the nose is pointed at the ground. F-15 pilots, because an empty (or nearly so) F-15 has a thrust:weight ratio o

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Seeing that video I think it's indeed going to hang. There seems to be a hook at the plane's belly to hook onto the cable.

      It's a hard trick. I wonder how many tries for that video to work out - that mattress won't be there just because. And this is indoors, no wind, no movement of the wire. The wind will be the hardest: wind changes all the time, and will be influenced by the cable at close range. I can imagine quite some turbulence to overcome for the aircraft.

      I wonder how often birds have to practice b

  • Sweet! (Score:2, Funny)

    by WreathOfBarbs (804654)
    I for one welcome our new power line perching overlords!
  • The control system is external so it has the benefit of a side-view comparison of the flight path and motion.

    They'll need to come up with vertically binocular vision and a bit more computer power on board before this thing is useful.

    Right now it's one part of a bigger system.

  • Charging (Score:5, Insightful)

    by davidwr (791652) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @11:40AM (#32990832) Homepage Journal

    "charging off transmission lines has its own problems."

    Not to mention how to bill for it.

    • Re:Charging (Score:5, Funny)

      by rah1420 (234198) <rah1420@gmail.com> on Thursday July 22, 2010 @12:02PM (#32991164)

      This brings back memories of when I was a kid. I and my friend had a 'fort' which was coincidentally under one of those "high tension" (what, about 50KV?) power lines.

      We had the bright idea that rather than run an extension cord out from his house, we could just shoot an arrow that had a conductor attached to it over the lowest of those power lines, then use a transformer to step it down to the right voltage, and Bob's your uncle; instant television in the old fort.

      Fortunately, we were much more interested in the architecture than the elctrical provisioning of said fort and quickly realized how in over our heads we'd be to try something like that.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Better hope its a low charge. The power company can see unbilled usage at the plant, and are able to sense demand on the lines. I know of two cases here in Colorado where people were getting free power because of where the lines were adapted. One got fined, the other didnt, which is probably because of how he had it set up. The first actually set up a fairly fancy induction relay to power his house (and was fined for "stealing" power that was leaking out of the lines anyways), where the other just put f

      • by kalirion (728907)

        Wait a second, how does the company "see unbilled usage" if the power is "leaking out anyway"?

      • Re:Charging (Score:5, Informative)

        by rubycodez (864176) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @01:46PM (#32992906)

        news for you, placing inductor with coil near line doesn't "steal power that was leaking out of the lines anyway", it acts as secondary of transformer that in fact removes energy from line, stealing power that would have gone to customers.

    • ... they'll probably end up paying a flat rate per in-commission drone.

  • by magsol (1406749) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @11:43AM (#32990890) Homepage Journal
    "Pooping on cars is the next hurdle."
    • Remember, this is a potential domestic spying device.

      It's more likely they'll be pooping on our liberties.

      • by HTH NE1 (675604) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @12:30PM (#32991588)

        Laserbeak, eject. Operation: wiretapping.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cgenman (325138)

        All of the powerline powering systems I've seen breach the outer shell of the line with a metal hook.

        There is no way in hell that's getting approved for domestic usage. A: it would be sued out of existence amazingly quickly, and B: there are enough government-owned places around domestically that you could just plug the things in.

        Further, you'd have to either have someone watch all of that video (and we're tremendously backed up on audio recordings as-is), or process it somehow in a searchable format. Som

        • Buried lines are heavily insulated, but overhead lines are not.

          Since overhead transmission lines are uninsulated, design of these lines requires minimum clearances to be observed to maintain safety.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_power_transmission#Overhead_transmission [wikipedia.org]

        • As far as the surveillance aspect, they don't need to watch all of the video in order for it to be useful.

          They just need enough video on file so they can find a violation if they need for you to go away.

          Nobody ever said anything about video anyway. Devices this small could be useful in pinpointing individuals after cell tower triangulation has provided a general location. They might be useful in following chemical trails. The possibilities go on and on: Targeting beacons, explosive/chemical/bio warfare

  • From TFA:

    "The heart of the system is a library of trajectories," says Tedrake. "Wall-mounted cameras report on the glider's position and the control system looks up a trajectory that will take it to the perch." [emph added]

    It is very difficult for a glider to accurately figure out the distance to an approaching power line for fairly obvious reasons -- the arc subtended doesn't increase all that much as you approach until you are right up on top of it. You can use multiple cameras but that only nets you a resolution bonus proportional to the inverse of the vertical distance between the cameras. Using cameras external to the glider is an obvious improvement but it does sort of negate the idea that this is an independen

    • As you said, external cameras seem like a good place to start. Since it's MIT, I'm sure they could afford one of those laser distance sensors which would give them distance and angle, though they might have to add an engine to handle the weight. Worst case, ultrasonic sensors would work for distance measurement (works for bats) since there shouldn't be too many obstacles when you're looking at a power line. Maybe video for determining approach angle. Seems doable.
  • Birds are smarter than nerds!
  • Hm...a flock of birds that performs surveillance...where have I heard that one before...
  • parasites (Score:3, Interesting)

    by danlip (737336) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @12:08PM (#32991238)

    I am imagining self-reproducing bird sized electricity suckers overwhelming the grid. It would make a great premise for a sci-fi movie.

  • It's possible to get useful amounts of power by simply placing a coil of wire under the line, and getting power by induction. On the ground it would need a big coil, but a plane could fly along the powerline and get much better efficiency. So why perch on it?

    Also, where does the plane get its ground?

    • neither alternating current or Induction require a ground.

      AC becomes safer for saltwater sacks (us) if a ground is used, but we're talking about robot spy birds here.

  • by frovingslosh (582462) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @12:15PM (#32991330)
    So, making a copy of a song is piracy and stealing, but taking energy from a power line is clever and innovative? Seems like very selective morality for what Slashdot condemns and what they find worthy of reporting without criticism.
    • by tsalmark (1265778)
      This may come as a surprise but Slashdot is a collection of Individuals, many of them capable of forming and holding their own opinions.
      • by Anomalyst (742352)

        many of them capable of forming and holding their own opinions.

        Speak for yourself, you insensitive clod. - A. Lemming

    • > So, making a copy of a song is piracy and stealing...

      No. Copyright infringement is not theft.

      > ...but taking energy from a power line is clever and innovative? Seems like
      > very selective morality for what Slashdot condemns and what they find
      > worthy of reporting without criticism.

      "Clever" is not a moral judgement (not to mention that the bit about recharging from powerlines is wild speculation imported from another article about another project run by a different organization).

    • Say wah?

      I'm pretty sure that 1) the majority of /.ers certainly don't view copying songs as piracy or stealing and 2) that developing a RC plane that recharges on power lines can be considered clever and innovative but is still stealing power.

      You know, just the same way that movie bank robbers can be clever but they're still just thieves.

  • by junglebeast (1497399) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @12:22PM (#32991444)

    Great, robotic birds land on the power lines and run up your electric bill.

    • by HTH NE1 (675604) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @12:44PM (#32991846)

      Generally there are not exposed power lines between your power meter and your home, and even less likely with newer construction. They could trace it to your neighborhood, but not to any one particular home unless they caught it perching.

      There are also people working on leeching power from WiFi radio signals in order to recharge cell phones, with the consequence of reducing the range of your WiFi.

      I'm looking forward to someone coming up with the not-so-bright idea of recharging electric cars using the induction loops that control the lights at intersections. Like pulling power for your time machine by parking on a rift in Cardiff.

      • > There are also people working on leeching power from WiFi radio signals in
        > order to recharge cell phones, with the consequence of reducing the range of
        > your WiFi.

        That would not reduce the range of your WiFi: the rf would be absobed by the body of the cellphone user anyway (but even if it weren't, so what? If you don't want me to absorb your radiation and put it to use don't spray it at me).

        • That would not reduce the range of your WiFi: the rf would be absobed by the body of the cellphone user anyway ...

          The problem is that they wouldn't just be absorbing the radiation. Well, I suppose they could just absorb the signal (and generate a minuscule amount of power from the resulting heat), but it wouldn't be very practical. When you collect power from EM radiation via induction, whether the source be high-tension power lines or a WiFi hotspot, the induced power creates an inverse transmission that partially cancels out the original field around the receiver. In the case of WiFi the result would look a lot like

      • by evilviper (135110)

        There are also people working on leeching power from WiFi radio signals in order to recharge cell phones, with the consequence of reducing the range of your WiFi.

        RF DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY!

        When you wear black clothes and stand in front of a spotlight, does the light start to bend towards you? Does the amount of light going in other directions get reduced by any particular amount?

        Of course not. And so it is with RF. At WORST, the only thing you can do is create a very narrow "dark spot" if you are directly

        • by pclminion (145572)

          When you wear black clothes and stand in front of a spotlight, does the light start to bend towards you? Does the amount of light going in other directions get reduced by any particular amount?

          No, but that's because incandescent light is incoherent light. With coherent light, like carefully modulated RF, a passive absorber can cause effects that are more complicated than just "casting a shadow." The radiation field is a superposition of an infinite number of waves. By absorbing some of these waves you obv

  • by Zackbass (457384) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @12:29PM (#32991576)

    If anyone here is actually interested in the science behind this you should have a look at some of the lab's publications on the subject. As per Slashdot tradition, all the brilliant points brought up so far in the comments already have answers, they're just a little bit harder to find this time.

    Our research group's website:
    http://groups.csail.mit.edu/locomotion/index.html [mit.edu]

    On the actual perching work:
    http://groups.csail.mit.edu/robotics-center/public_papers/Cory08.pdf [mit.edu]
    http://groups.csail.mit.edu/robotics-center/public_papers/Hoburg09a.pdf [mit.edu]
    http://groups.csail.mit.edu/robotics-center/public_papers/Moore09.pdf [mit.edu]
    http://groups.csail.mit.edu/robotics-center/public_papers/Roberts09.pdf [mit.edu]

    Rick's PhD thesis on the subject:
    http://groups.csail.mit.edu/locomotion/perching_media/CoryThesis.pdf [mit.edu]

    and on the controls side:
    http://groups.csail.mit.edu/robotics-center/public_papers/Tedrake09a.pdf [mit.edu]

  • by bplipschitz (265300) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @12:35PM (#32991662)

    Miniature surveillance aircraft would never need to return to base if they could cling to overhead power lines to recharge their batteries. Now engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are close to perfecting the trick – taking inspiration from birds.

    Uh, the birds aren't recharging.

    Really.

  • Soundwave! Play back Laserbeak's findings!

    I can die happy now.
  • Steven Rambam mentioned this (and showed a cool video of it) at his "Privacy is Dead: Get Over It" talk at The Next HOPE [thenexthope.com]. It's too bad there wasn't any coverage of The Next HOPE on /.

  • by __roo (86767) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @12:44PM (#32991840) Homepage

    It shouldn't be too hard to charge a small battery through induction. We already saw an example of this when Richard Box used induction for his fluorescent light art [slashdot.org], and it's not an uncommon subject for questions on underaduate E&M exams [unc.edu].

  • From TFA: "Wall-mounted cameras report on the glider's position and the control system looks up a trajectory that will take it to the perch."

    How exactly is that going to work with an actual power line? Not a lot of wall-mounted cameras up there.

    • In much the same way that ancient Chinese bottle rockets ultimately led to the Saturn V or the way that a marathon runner started by taking a few tentative steps while holding on to a coffee table around 10-12 months of age.

      Most progress is not the result of someone getting a brilliant idea and immediately creating a finished product. Rather, progress is the result of incremental steps, with the first baby steps being to simplify the problem and learn the best ways of accomplishing the goal, then slowly
      • Seriously, this is /. which is *supposed* to be populated by geeks. I would think here, of all places, we would understand how science and technology progresses [:rolleyes:]

        Why would you think that? On every story about a new technology there's at least a few comments about how it's not ready for market yet, so it's not really news.

  • I can say a few things about this. Who is going to be responsible when the things get too close and trip a CB ? If the thing doesn't explode and stays put then some damage can occur. Probably not, because the recloser would kick in and see the load then trip the line again, this time permanantly, but there could be some damage...and btw Big birds cause this all the time but usually around the racks in the substation. Second thing.. Who's going to pay for the power they are stealing? Yes stealing... I know i
  • I'm pretty sure there's a couple of these nesting in one of my sheds.

  • So if I want to steal power from a power line without paying for it, it's OK?

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