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Clawed micro-drone swoops up prey mid-flight

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March 16, 2013

Researchers at UPenn's GRASP Lab have replicated how a bird of prey grasps objects mid-fli...

Researchers at UPenn's GRASP Lab have replicated how a bird of prey grasps objects mid-flight

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Here's something you don't see everyday: a Micro Unmanned Aerial vehicle (MAV) that can grab objects on the fly with all the elegance of an eagle snatching a fish from the water's surface. Although MAVs and UAVs are increasingly being equipped to pick up, transport, and drop off payloads, we've never seen this incredibly precise form of grasping on the fly replicated – until now.

The similarity to an eagle's hunting ability is no coincidence – University of Pennsylvania research team members Justin Thomas, Joe Polin, Koushil Sreenath and Vijay Kumar, programmed the quadrotor MAV based on observations garnered from nature videos. They found that the bird of prey dramatically reduces the velocity of its claws in relation to its prey by sweeping its legs back at the point of impact, allowing it to grasp its intended target without slowing down. Since they're working with an MAV weighing just 500 grams, they had to design and fabricate an appropriately light weight arm and gripper.

An American Bald Eagle swoops down to grab lunch (Photo: Shutterstock)

Their solution is a arm weighing just 158 grams that attaches to a servo-driven swing to replicate the sweeping motion in their robot. To keep the weight down, they engineered a clever three-fingered claw that can naturally conform to different shapes but clenches and releases with just a single servo. These parts were then fabricated using a combination of 3D printing and laser-cut ABS and then covered with Dycem, which is a type of high-friction rubber that improves the robot's grip.

Besides looking damned impressive, they suggest that this sort of ability could be used in life or death situations where timing is everything. In a paper due to be presented at the International Design Engineering Technical Conferences & Computers and Information in Engineering Conference (IDETC/CIE 2013), the team writes that this ability could be "extended to achieve perching capabilities, which could be used to quickly escape high winds, achieve immediate silence in stealth operations, and improve mission duration by reducing hover time."

It seems the MAV's next trick will be clinging to a wire mid-flight, and thanks to its adaptive grippers it could also perch in tree branches (and other places). For now we can enjoy watching it grab a light cylinder (27 g) at up to three meters per second in the following video.

The eagle-like abilities of the latest MAV builds on the teams' earlier work that includes demonstrations of quadcopters swarming and even performing the theme from James Bond.

Source: UPenn via Dvice

About the Author
Jason Falconer Jason is a freelance writer based in central Canada with a background in computer graphics. He has written about hundreds of humanoid robots on his website Plastic Pals and is an avid gamer with an unsightly collection of retro consoles, cartridges, and controllers.   All articles by Jason Falconer
7 Comments

So now there is no need to blow up terror suspects just build a full sized UAV and grab them on the fly.

Gadget
17th March, 2013 @ 03:57 pm PDT

this is totally going to put homing pigeons out of work!!!

Jesse Gunn
17th March, 2013 @ 04:32 pm PDT

Now they can spy on us AND haul us in!

KMH
18th March, 2013 @ 09:09 am PDT

So, in theory, I could order a burrito by phone and have this thing (once a camera's mounted on it) fly over and pick it up for me...?

KMH
18th March, 2013 @ 09:11 am PDT

I'm thinking this could be used for public transportation. Just stand on the "X" and it could come by and snatch you up and deliver you the place you need to go :-)

Scott Casteel
18th March, 2013 @ 10:03 am PDT

So perched UAV's are on the horizon. That brings up a lot of possibilities.

Eddie Hagler
18th March, 2013 @ 11:33 am PDT

Yeah, the claw is functional in this form, but it's function doesn't do what it can. They could be making their surfaces for the claw's frame with lift in mind and negating some of it's weight in 'forward' flight. Save power, increase ability.

Tektinker
18th March, 2013 @ 10:57 pm PDT
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