Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), such as those used by the military for surveillance and reconnaissance, could be getting a hand –and an arm– from engineers at Drexel University as part of a National Science Foundation grant to investigate adding dexterous limbs to the aircrafts.
A gantry system, like the one pictured, will be used to test the robotic arms that could eventually be mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles.
UAVs currently perform passive tasks such as gathering in-flight visual data and intelligence, tasks that are performed well above ground. Oh’s team is looking at how UAVs might interact with objects at or near ground level. The group’s research focuses on developing what the NSF calls “Mobile Manipulating UAVs” –with arms and hands capable of performing active near-ground tasks. Oh envisions a broad range of applications from infrastructure repair and disaster recovery to border inspection and agricultural handling.
“These types of aircraft will advance field service robotics for things like search and rescue and disaster mitigation,” Oh said. “It could help with infrastructure repair; instead of hoisting someone up to a bridge, these robots might be equipped to fly up to the bridge and start welding.”
To better understand the forces and torques associated with the movements of limbs on a flying machine, Oh and his team intend to retrofit robotic arms and hands onto an adjustable gantry system that is configured to mimic a UAV’s lateral and longitudinal movements. Using the data gained from the gantry testing, Oh hopes to eventually build a working prototype.
“Like all things that fly you want to make sure they don’t crash, and as this type of flying robot starts manipulating things in its environment it can often destabilize the vehicle,” Oh said. “This is a very challenging design problem that nobody else has ever really attacked.”