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Robotics Technology

Self-Assembling Multi-Copter Demonstrates Networked Flight Control 48

Posted by samzenpus
from the here-comes-the-swarm dept.
cylonlover writes "Researchers at ETH Zurich have demonstrated an amazing capability for small robots to self-assemble and take to the air as a multi-rotor helicopter. Maximilian Kriegleder and Raymond Oung worked with Professor Raffaello D'Andrea at his research lab to develop the small hexagonal pods that assemble into flying rafts. The true accomplishment of this research is that there is not one robot in control – each unit in itself decides what actions to take to keep the group in the air in what's known as Distributed Flight Array."
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Self-Assembling Multi-Copter Demonstrates Networked Flight Control

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  • Welcome! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Pendletoncils (2834733) on Monday July 22, 2013 @10:43AM (#44350663)
    I for one, welcome our new self assembling robot overlords.
  • I am pretty sure they stole the idea from Stargate!
    • That might explain why my doctor found a worm in my stomach with the x-ray this morning.

      • That might explain why my doctor found a worm in my stomach with the x-ray this morning.

        Nah, that worm was probably from the Tequila.

  • So what happens when it things some thing is in it way? will it self sacrifice an unit to knock some thing down with out even thinking about what damage that can do to others?

  • by Max_W (812974) on Monday July 22, 2013 @11:12AM (#44351011)
    It is very interesting in a sense that it may allow to supply energy to the drone by cable from the ground.

    For example, to make imagery for cartography from the height of 1 or 2 kilometers. The problem of a battery is very short flying time. A cable from ,say, a car cigarette lighter socket is another story.

    A single quadrocopter has not enough stability for a cable.
    • Well, I could see a separate copter unit with a whole lot of batteries. It would tend to become the center piece. A special slot would then allow it to recharge other copters as needed in a distributed power array. This copter unit probably doesn't even need propellers, though I'm unsure if the others could lift it easily. There are a lot of cool extensions to this, and it'll be interesting to see the practical applications.
      • by Max_W (812974) on Monday July 22, 2013 @11:27AM (#44351191)
        I am an amateur pilot of a quadrocopter and a cartographer of www.osm.org . A battery is not the way to go. It lasts 10 - 12 minutes.

        The same about wi-fi; it is 50 - 70 meters into the air and "signal is lost".

        To send a satellite into the space for cartography costs millions. But a stable quadrocopter with a cable of 1 kilometer or at least 500 meters would allow to make aero-imagery suitable for cartography cheap and fast .

        Balloons with helium are messy and unstable.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          I'm not sure what kind of wire you have in mind, but that's almost 30kg for a 1km 12 gauge wire.
          You'll probably want a + and -, so make that 60kg.
          you might as well just add a couple of car batteries to it if it can lift that much.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Oh, and I forgot about the weight of insulation for the cables.

            You might say lets use a thinner wire. We'll just put a high voltage on it, and down convert it at the top.
              Then you get into tensile strength issues and increasing resistance.
            And then you've just added a bunch of weight for a power converter to your flying device.

            I have to say it's not looking good for your cable idea.

        • by Infiniti2000 (1720222) on Monday July 22, 2013 @12:31PM (#44351965)
          But, can it fly with 1km of power cable hanging off it? My guess is about 125g / m, but even 1/5th that you can get 25g / m or 25kg of additional weight. That's as much as my 9yo son and I'm pretty sure the current rig couldn't lift him. Where are my numbers wrong or do you really think this is doable? I realize the flight time of current batteries is low, but there aren't many other options. Perhaps supplemented with solar energy or at worst a gas-power motor with an alternator.
          • by Max_W (812974)
            Gaz power is OK, but too noisy, plus vibration.

            Cable is heavy, but there will be no batteries' weight. And by cable we can send up unlimited amount of energy, say, from a running car lighter socket.

            Cable would interfere with photography on a normal quadrocopter, but if it is assembled from several ones as it is shown on video then cable will be at the side.

            What we need is to lift it into the air in a calm clear day and make aerial images of a city district. To do it via satellite costs millions or
          • But, can it fly with 1km of power cable hanging off it? My guess is about 125g / m, but even 1/5th that you can get 25g / m or 25kg of additional weight. That's as much as my 9yo son and I'm pretty sure the current rig couldn't lift him. Where are my numbers wrong or do you really think this is doable? I realize the flight time of current batteries is low, but there aren't many other options. Perhaps supplemented with solar energy or at worst a gas-power motor with an alternator.

            Maybe a pure cable would be too heavy, but Edison showed us that an aerodynamic cable would work. His aerodynamic cable was a kite on a wire. Insulate and hang on tight.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          A turbine engine can also be a generator if you build it that way. Microturbines are becoming fairly efficient...

          • by Max_W (812974)
            Silent non-vibrating micro-turbine on a quadrocopter and we will live in a different world. But so far I have only a heavy inefficient battery as an energy source for my quadrocopter.
  • by wjcofkc (964165) on Monday July 22, 2013 @11:24AM (#44351163)
    For those who don't RTFA, I suggest you at least look at the 'summary' youtube video towards the bottom of the article, it's only a couple minutes long and is pretty awesome.

    While this may not bare a commercial application in itself, it is still a big step forward in studying how robots can learn to react to each other as individuals while cooperating as a team. Again, while this implementation of the idea at hand may not directly have any obvious use other than research, it is that research and the basic premise behind it that will carry on into future applications we may not even understand yet. I know that there is a lot of research into autonomous cooperation between robots to achieve a goal, but this is stepping up the game.

    As the years go by I am constantly fascinated as innovations and advancements in technology accelerate increasing rapidly. We are almost there, however, it has already become beyond impossible to understand just what 'there' will turn out to be. I think we'll know sooner than later.
  • so.. there's some central control. when they snap together they have comms going between. obviously, to make it fly any well at all.

    • by wjcofkc (964165) on Monday July 22, 2013 @11:39AM (#44351357)
      No. Each component represents and individual sensor array and its own individual main computer. They work and communicate as a team. From the freakin article:

      The individual vehicles of the Distributed Flight Array have fixed propellers that can lift them into the air, but the resulting flight is erratic and uncontrolled. Joined together, however, these relatively simple modules evolve into a sophisticated multi-propeller system capable of coordinated flight. The task of keeping the array in level flight is distributed across the network of vehicles. Vehicles exchange information and combine this information with their own sensor measurements to determine how much thrust is needed for the array to take-off and maintain level flight. If the array’s leveled flight is disturbed, each vehicle individually determines the amount of thrust required to correct for the disturbance based on its position in the array and the array’s motion.

      Consider reading my above comment Technology marches on [slashdot.org]. It leads with a suggestion specifically addressing those who don't RTFA - take a look and follow the advice.

    • by huiac (912723)
      My favourite will probably always be The Reproductive System by John Sladek.
  • Keith: Ready to form Voltron! Activate interlocks! Dyna-therms connected. Infra-cells up; mega-thrusters are go!

    Keith: Let's go, Voltron Force!

    Keith: Form feet and legs; form arms and body; and I'll form the head!
  • Someone watched the terminator movies and thought "self assembling robots that act as a team, have the ability to fly and determined to wipe out the human race? How can I get on the ground floor of this exciting new venture!"

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