Self-assembling vehicles take flight (w/ Video)

Jun 09, 2010 by Lin Edwards report
Modules assembled into a hexagonal array

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers in Switzerland are developing miniature vehicles that can self-assemble and then take off vertically and fly as a stable array.

The system, developed at the Institute of Dynamic Systems and Control at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich, is known as a Distributed Array. The system is basically a flying platform consisting of a number of autonomous wheeled vehicles, each driven by a fixed ducted propeller. Each vehicle has its own motor and flight control system and is equipped with a computer, and wireless communication systems.

The individual vehicles can drive on the ground, dock with other vehicles, and can fly but only in an uncontrolled and erratic way. When the vehicles are joined together, however, the combination becomes a sophisticated flight platform capable of coordinated flight, with data shared rapidly between the individual vehicles and flight control distributed across the array.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
A short video which introduces the Distributed Flight Array which is being developed at ETH Zurich.

Each vehicle has sensors, and the information from all the vehicles is combined to calculate the thrust required for take off and to maintain level flight. If the flight level is disturbed each vehicle in the array determines the thrust required to correct the flight of the array, taking into account the position of the vehicle in the array and its motion. Instead of landing, the array breaks up, with the individual modules dropping to the ground on their own and then driving off.

The distributed flight array is at the proof of concept stage, but in the future could be useful for applications such as lifting heavy objects, with the number of vehicles or modules in the array selected according to the lift required. The modular nature of the array also means some failure can be tolerated since if one or two vehicles fail the others can compensate.

Among ETH Zürich’s many other research projects is a Flying Machine Arena (FMA), which is a 10 m cube of indoor space designed specifically for testing and validating autonomous vehicles. The space has glass on one side and nets on the other three sides so flying vehicles can be tested safely. An optional safety net can also be installed on the bottom of the space to prevent crashes onto the hard ground.

ETH Zürich, founded in 1855, is one of the leading universities in the world for technology and the natural sciences, and aims to facilitate research and results beneficial for society as a whole.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
A Dancing Quadrocopter. Synchronizing the Motion of a Quadrocopter to Music.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Interactive flip demo. A person holds a "wand" with markers on it. Simple wand gestures tell the system what to do.


Explore further: An eel-lectrifying future for autonomous underwater robots

More information: DFA project page: www.idsc.ethz.ch/Research_DAndrea/DFA
More videos on YouTube:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bh-7G9fYbY8
www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJFGuyBNClo
www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzM450aJBYQ

Related Stories

Road trains may be coming soon to Europe (w/ Video)

Nov 13, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Road trains linking vehicles together in a traveling convoy are planned for Europe. With only the lead vehicle being actively driven, the road trains would allow commuters to sleep, read a ...

MIT's intelligent aircraft fly, cooperate autonomously

Sep 26, 2006

The U.S. military depends on small, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to perform such tasks as serving as "eyes in the sky" for battalion commanders planning maneuvers. While some of these UAVs can be easily carried in a backpack ...

Recommended for you

How polymer banknotes were invented

21 hours ago

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and CSIRO's 20-year "bank project" resulted in the introduction of the polymer banknote – the first ever of its kind, and the most secure form of currency in the world. ...

Enabling the hearing impaired to locate human speakers

22 hours ago

New wireless microphones systems developed at EPFL should allow the hearing impaired to aurally identify, even with closed eyes, the location of the person speaking. This new technology will be used in classrooms ...

Researcher explores drone-driven crop management

Nov 25, 2014

A flock of pigeons flies over the soybean field where J. Craig Williams is standing. He reaches down and rips off a brown pod from one of the withered plants and splits it open. Grabbing a tiny bean between ...

User comments : 11

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

shavera
not rated yet Jun 09, 2010
why? what advantage is there to this system?
CSharpner
5 / 5 (2) Jun 09, 2010
why? what advantage is there to this system?

Redundancy, for one. The more redundant a system, the less likely it is for total system failure. Also, there's no central controller. The "logic" is also distributed and redundant.

This system, "as-is", isn't intended be used exactly like it is. It's more a conglomeration of different technologies, each a proof of concept. The self-assembling tech could be used to build space stations, for example, or to build a moon base or a Martian base. Self-assembly has many potential applications. Redundancy has virtually global applications. Removal of centralized computing has plenty of advantages (P2P file sharing, for example).
Bloodoflamb
5 / 5 (1) Jun 09, 2010
why? what advantage is there to this system?
From the article:
The distributed flight array is at the proof of concept stage, but in the future could be useful for applications such as lifting heavy objects, with the number of vehicles or modules in the array selected according to the lift required. The modular nature of the array also means some failure can be tolerated since if one or two vehicles fail the others can compensate.
I'm sure there are other applications. For example, flying in a whole assembly to a disaster area. Land, then split up the individual units to do ground based recon. Use your imagination.
LuckyBrandon
2.6 / 5 (5) Jun 09, 2010
I'd like to see something like this scaled way up and used by the military...just imagine, multiple small aerial attack vehicles that can combine to take on a bigger enemy (lets say, going from enemy personnel or small/light vehicles up to tanks)
Of course with personnel in them, you don't need the self assembly part...of course its more likely if that occurred, they would be used as drones like the current predator...
jwalkeriii
not rated yet Jun 09, 2010
Dancing Quadrocopter would make for an awesome back yard light show. :)
Bloodoflamb
3.5 / 5 (4) Jun 09, 2010
I'd like to see something like this scaled way up and used by the military...just imagine, multiple small aerial attack vehicles that can combine to take on a bigger enemy (lets say, going from enemy personnel or small/light vehicles up to tanks)
Of course with personnel in them, you don't need the self assembly part...of course its more likely if that occurred, they would be used as drones like the current predator...
This isn't Voltron. They gain flight stability by coming together - not new magical powers.
visual
not rated yet Jun 10, 2010
I don't know about the flying part, but the docking assembly and combined processing on a miniature enough scale could lead to interesting T-1000-like machines some day.
COCO
Jun 11, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
LuckyBrandon
2.7 / 5 (3) Jun 11, 2010
bloodoflamb-no shite jackass. that stability would be useful in taking out a tank.
strap a couple machine guns and maybe a small cannon onto each little part, and you put them together and vastly increase their firepower, albeit you would be limited to the outside surface of the combined craft.
I would think at a larger size though, more stability would be in place....
fixer
5 / 5 (2) Jun 12, 2010
Or, they could replace cranes in construction, carry freight over rough terrain and/or water.
Plenty of applications for this tech.
Javinator
not rated yet Jun 13, 2010
bloodoflamb-no shite jackass. that stability would be useful in taking out a tank.
strap a couple machine guns and maybe a small cannon onto each little part, and you put them together and vastly increase their firepower, albeit you would be limited to the outside surface of the combined craft.
I would think at a larger size though, more stability would be in place....


Well you'd have the same firepower overall with multiple small units seperately flying around that you would with them all joined...

I don't know why would you want to concntrate them into one area to make them easier to hit by whatever was attacking them.

Easier to take about a hive of bees with the bees all in the hive than it is to take down a swarm of bees around you.
LuckyBrandon
1 / 5 (1) Jun 14, 2010
that is some solid logic that even I cant argue javinator :)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.