Drones are useful in countless ways, but that usefulness is often limited by the time they can stay in the air. Shouldn’t drones be able to take a load off too? With these special claws attached, they can perch or hang with ease, conserving battery power and vastly extending their flight time. The claws, created by a highly multinational team of researchers I’ll list at the end, are inspired by birds and bats. The team noted that many flying animals have specially adapted feet or claws suited to attaching the creature to its favored surface. Sometimes they sit, sometimes they hang, sometimes they just kind of lean on it and don’t have to flap as hard. As the researchers write: In all of these cases, some suitably shaped part of the animal’s foot interacts with a structure in the environment and facilitates that less lift needs to be generated or that power flight can be completely suspended. Our goal is to use the same concept, which is commonly referred to as “perching,” for UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles]. “Perching,” you say? Go on… We designed a modularized and actuated landing gear framework for rotary-wing UAVs consisting of an actuated gripper module and a set of contact modules that are mounted on the gripper’s fingers. This modularization substantially increased the range of possible structures that can be exploited for perching and resting as compared with avian-inspired grippers. Instead of trying to build one complex mechanism, like a pair of articulating feet, the team gave the drones a set of specially shaped 3D-printed static modules and one big gripper. The drone surveys its surroundings using lidar or some other depth-aware sensor. This lets it characterize surfaces nearby and match those to a library of examples that it knows it can rest on. Squared-off edges like those on the top right can be rested on as in A, while a pole can be balanced on as in B. If the drone sees and needs to rest on a pole, it can grab it from above. If it’s a horizontal bar, it can grip it and hang below, flipping up again when necessary. If it’s a ledge, it can use a little cutout to steady itself against the corner, letting it shut off or all its motors. These modules can easily be swapped out or modified depending on the mission. I have to say the whole thing actually seems to work remarkably well for a prototype. The hard part appears to be the recognition of useful surfaces and the precise positioning required to land on them properly. But it’s useful enough — in professional and military applications especially, one suspects — that it seems likely to be a common feature in a few years. The paper describing this system was . I don’t want to leave anyone out, so it’s by: Kaiyu Hang, Ximin Lyu, Haoran Song, Johannes A. Stork , Aaron M. Dollar, Danica Kragic and Fu Zhang, from Yale, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the University of Hong Kong, and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology.
An artist’s concepton shows drones in the Boeing Airpower Teaming System flying alongside an F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet. (Boeing Illustration) Boeing is unveiling a new type of uncrewed aircraft that’s designed to fly military missions alongside piloted airplanes, known as the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. The air platform is being developed for global defense customers by Boeing Austraila, and as such, represents Boeing’s biggest investment in an unmanned aircraft program outside the United States. Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne took the wraps off a full-scale mockup of the plane today at the at Avalon Airport in Geelong. Australia’s government is teaming up with Boeing to produce a concept demonstrator called the “Loyal Wingman,” which should blaze the trail for production of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. “The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will provide a disruptive advantage for allied forces’ manned / unmanned missions,” Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems, . “With its ability to reconfigure quickly and perform different types of missions in tandem with other aircraft, our newest addition to Boeing’s portfolio will truly be a force multiplier as it protects and projects air power.” Revealed! Our new smart, reconfigurable unmanned system teams with other aircraft to protect & project air power. The Boeing Airpower Teaming System – Australian investment & innovation at work! More: — Boeing Australia (@BoeingAustralia) Boeing says the 38-foot-long craft will provide fighter-like performance, with the range to fly 2,000 nautical miles (2,300 statute miles). The aircraft will be equipped with sensor packages to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions as well as electronic warfare. And it will be able to use artificial intelligence to fly independently, or in support of piloted aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft. Australia’s ABC as saying the aircraft could eventually be used to deliver bombs. Similar “loyal wingman” drone concepts are under development at and . Marc Allen, president of Boeing International, said the Boeing Airpower Teaming System is “a historic endeavor” for the company, due to the nature of the international partnership. “Not only is it developed outside the United States, it is also designed so that our global customers can integrate local content to meet their country-specific requirements,” he said. First flight of the demonstrator is planned for 2020.