For some time now, engineers have been researching the possibility of equipping UAVs (unmanned air vehicles) with robotic arms. This week, DARPA announced that a successful test of just such an “armed” UAV has been performed.
DARPA utilized an existing V-Bat UAV, made by California-based MLB Company. The stock V-Bat can fly horizontally to quickly reach its destination, then hover in a tail-down orientation once it gets there.
The DARPA team added a folding robotic arm to the UAV, along with an inexpensive stereoscopic computer vision system – this incorporated one camera on the end of the arm, and another on the aircraft itself.
For the test, a 1-pound (454-gram) payload was attached to a hook on the end of the arm. Using its vision and GPS systems, the V-Bat then autonomously identified a step ladder, which was the object on which it had to place its payload. It proceeded to maneuver itself up alongside the ladder, extended its arm by six feet (1.8 meters), and placed the payload on the ladder.
“Our goal with the UAV payload emplacement demonstration was to show we could quickly develop and integrate the right technology to make this work,” said DARPA program manager Dan Pratt. “The success of the demonstration further enables the capabilities of future autonomous aerial vehicles.”
A video of the test (which apparently took place last September) can be seen below.