Self-Correcting Flying Robot Unveiled By Swiss Engineers
June 17, 2012

Self-Correcting Flying Robot Unveiled By Swiss Engineers

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Researchers at a Swiss technological institute have developed a flying robot which they say was designed to seek out -- not avoid -- contact, and is capable of withstanding a collision.

The robot is known as AirBurr and it was developed by experts at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) Intelligent Systems Laboratory (LIS) in Lausanne, Switzerland. The reason behind the robot's development, according to the inventors, was to create a machine specifically designed to study the physical interaction between flying robots and the surrounding environment.

"While it´s exploring confined, dangerous or cluttered zones, the flying robot 'Airburr' isn´t fazed by crashes or falls," the EPFL said Friday. "Built using a design approach that´s diametrically opposite to that of similar robots, it actively seeks out contact, and can move about without fear of accidents."

In contrast to most other flying robots, which are typically engineered to avoid obstacles, AirBurr, which according to Engadget's Mat Smith has been in the works since 2009, has been specially designed in order to withstand the shock on a collision and utilizes special navigational algorithms in order to take advantage of that ability.

"Four years ago we developed a flying robot that could duck around obstacles, but in a chaotic environment it wasn´t reliable, and it always ended up running into something and crashing and then it couldn´t get back up again," project leader Adam Klaptocz explained. As a result, the team altered their approach in order to turn Airburr into an "autonomous helicopter that could remain airborne after a collision and get itself back up after a fall," the EPFL said in their June 15 press release.

The project is detailed by Klaptocz and colleagues Ludovic Daler, Adrien Briod, Jean-Christophe Zufferey, and Dario Floreano in the latest edition of the journal IEEE Transactions in Robotics, and in a recent blog entry, IEEE Spectrum writer Evan Ackerman explained exactly how their creation worked.

"AirBurr's latest trick involves first crashing into something and falling to the ground, which I imagine was a pretty easy thing to get it to do. Second, the MAV rolls over onto its side thanks to a clever arrangement of carbon fiber caging plus a carefully designed center of gravity. Third, AirBurr activates an 'Active Recovery System' consisting of carbon fiber legs that deploy out from the body, pushing the body of the MAV into a vertical position from which it can lift off straight up," he wrote, comparing the process to " a cross between a WeebleCopter and that nifty little jumping robot that can self-right after landing."

"The big advantage that AirBurr has is that it doesn't have to be super clever apart from the structural design," Ackerman added. "This isn't to say that the robot isn't clever, but what makes it clever is that it doesn't have to localize, it doesn't have to detect objects, and it doesn't have to rely on all kinds of sensors and onboard computing power. Instead, it can just smash into things and recover and keep on going“¦ AirBurr is ideal for confined and cluttered environments that are bad for traditional sensors, like disaster areas or anywhere indoors or underground."