Balloons, kites, UAVs, UAS, drones, RPAs, satellites—DARC is an exploration of flying robots in all their forms.
This page is your guide to the robots of DARC—how they fit into the legal and innovation questions at the heart of the conference, how they relate to the people attending the conference, and how you can get involved. It will be periodically updated as the program continues to develop.
Are we missing something important? Let us know.
3D Robotics ignited the DIY Drones movement with its stewardship of the DIY Drones community and the “Ardupilot” open source project. Ardupilot an Arduino-based autopilot for hobby aircraft. Now anyone can buy open hardware (manufactured and sold primarily by 3DR), consult open hardware plans, and use open source software to build and deploy their own autonomous plane, copter, or rover. Led by entrepreneur Chris Anderson (speaking at DARC), 3DR has made the idea of “personal drones” very real.
The drone everyone can afford
The most advanced drone in the universe
Curiosity is a car-sized robotic rover exploring Gale Crater on Mars as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission (MSL). Curiosity touched down in the Gale Crater in an unassisted, highly intricate, (and harrowing!) 7 minute descent, described in the famous NASA video Curiosity’s 7 Minutes of Terror. While Curiosity is ultimately dependent on its operators on Earth, it features autonomous navigation mode that allows it a bit of freedom on the Martian surface. It can choose its own path around rocks and other obstacles, and can shut itself down during events like dust storms.
Beloved by law enforcement
The Draganflyer X6 developed by Draganfly Innovations Inc. is a favorite of law enforcement. But it’s used in a wide range of other applications, like real estate and wild life aerial photography, industrial inspection, video production, and educational research. The X6 carries small cameras that can capture 1080p video and transmit it to a base station using the 5.8GHz frequency band. It can also carry infrared cameras for low-cost terrain mapping.
The X6 helicopter has been approved for operation by the FAA and Transport Canada, and has the largest approved public safety installed customer base in North America. Though its 15 minute flight time makes it unsuitable for surveillance, it comes in handy for things like crime scene reconstruction. A Reuters article describes how one sheriff’s deputy “can program the department’s GPS-enabled, 3.5-pound DraganflyerX6 quad copter to fly two concentric circles, at two elevations, capturing about 70 photos, for about $25 an hour. He then feeds those images into online digital mapping software, which creates a virtual crime scene that he uploads to his iPad.”
“The Extreme Access System for Entry (EASE) is a small hovering robot designed for inspection and ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) applications. EASE is intended for operating in close quarters, beyond line of sight, and in GPS denied areas; all of which are critical when performing search and rescue missions, building clearing, or civil infrastructure inspection.
The EASE system consists of a lightweight ground control station (GCS) and a micro Vertical Takeoff and Land (VTOL) air vehicle. It is not dependent on a GPS signal for operation, making it not only effective as a micro UAS in the traditional sense, but also enables it to fly indoors and in confined spaces as effectively as it does in open spaces. It has unmatched endurance due to our patented microfilament technology that enables the use of hot-swappable batteries, which power the entire system from the base station. The fishing-line thin microfilament provides directly connected communication between the GCS and the air vehicle, as well as power. Unlike all other RF controlled UASs, the microfilament makes the EASE impervious to jamming while the microfilament is unaffected by water, power lines, etc. Additionally, because the EASE vehicle is directly connected to its GCS, its communications cannot be intercepted, spoofed, or otherwise compromised from a data security perspective.” (Cyphy Works product page)
Straight out of science fiction
In the labs of the Flying Machine Arena at ETH Zurich, amazing things happen. Perhaps you’ve seen the TED talk by lab leader Raffaello D’Andrea on “The astounding athletic power of quadcopters?” Or perhaps you’ve seen the video of quadcopter pole acrobatics?
At ETH Zurich, D’Andrea and others are building “robots that think like athletes, solving physical problems with algorithms that help them learn.” They are developing drones that play catch, balance and make decisions together. The machine of choice is the quadrocopter due to its “agility, its mechanical simplicity and robustness, and its ability to hover.” These feats of machine learning, engineering, and robotic dexterity are cool—and they’re an invitation to the future shock that lies in a future swarming with flying robots.
“The Trimble Gatewing X100 is designed for mapping and surveying professionals looking for a reliable and straightforward mapping solution. This system offers an advanced solution for your everyday mapping projects. ”
Surveillance craft, now watching hurricanes
“The Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) surveillance aircraft. It was initially designed by Ryan Aeronautical (now part of Northrop Grumman), and known as Tier II+ during development. In role and operational design, the Global Hawk is similar to the venerable Lockheed U-2. The RQ-4 provides a broad overview and systematic surveillance using high resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and long-range electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors with long loiter times over target areas. It can survey as much as 40,000 square miles (100,000 km2) of terrain a day.”
Mindblowingly beautiful robots
Like ETH Zurich, the GRASP Lab at UPenn is developing and testing swarms of small rotary aircraft. GRASP robotics researchers Alex Kushleyev, Daniel Mellinger and Vijay Kumar teamed up with developer KMel Robotics to program “teams of up to twenty agile-flight-capable quadrotors to fly in various complex formations.”
In the TED talk “Robots that fly … and cooperate,” Kumar demonstrates how the quad squadron can fly in linear arrays, navigate around obstacles and otherwise exhibit what the GRASP team dubs complex autonomous swarm behavior. Each vehicle has a tiny robotic arm it can use to pick up an object weighing around 0.5 kg, and the vehicles can work in groups to pick up heavier payloads. The KMel robots are highly maneuverable: they can fly through windows or between other quadrotors, with only a few centimeters’ clearance on each side. When fitted with Velcro under the vehicle and on a surface, the quadrotors can perch on inclined, vertical or even inverted surfaces.
The performance technology group Marshmellow Laser Feast also used KMel quadrotors to develop “Meet Your Creator,” an amazing laser light show powered by flying robots. These demonstrations suggest huge potential for cheap swarms of autonomous robots to perform hereto unthinkable feats.
Can drones move matter and revolutionize logistics?
Matternet is a startup that spring from Singularity University in 2011. CEO and founder Andreas Raptopoulos wants drones to deliver all sorts of goods across long distances, and especially in places where the highways are sparse or overly jammed. If drones could deliver food, medicines, and other small payloads, they might form a “net of matter,” an autonomous physical distribution network that behaves a bit like our information networks.
Whether in remote areas or buzzing over dense metropolises, Raptopoulos describes how the diminutive robots will recharge using a network of communications and waypoint stations and route themselves with little or no human intervention. It’s the kind of idea that strikes some as crazy, but Matternet has captured quite a bit of attention. Read about Matternet at TEDGlobal 2013.
When you’re on a solo mission…
Mikrokopter is a German company that manufactures a range of reliable rotary aircraft. It’s one of the most popular aerial photography rigs and is used in a range of applications.
“The AeroVironment Nano Hummingbird or Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) is a tiny, remote controlled aircraft built to resemble and fly like a hummingbird, developed in the United States by AeroVironment, Inc. to specifications provided by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).”
“The Hummingbird is equipped with a small video camera for surveillance and reconnaissance purposes and, for now, operates in the air for up to 11 minutes. It can fly outdoors, or enter a doorway to investigate indoor environments.” (Wikipedia) Check out a demonstration video.
Work of art
Artist Bert Jansen stretched the limits of good taste when he transformed his taxidermied cat into a piece of art.
Graduating from AR.Drone
A significant step up from a $299 AR.Drone, the DJI Phantom is an approachable, prefabricated drone for aerial photography.
Technological enabler of American foreign policy
The Predator drone is now, in some ways, synonymous with American foreign policy. The original Predator program cost $2 billion dollars and has inarguably changed the way America wages war—though it’s no stranger to controversy.
Internet via balloons
Project Loon is a Google X project to that envisions a global network of high-altitude balloons to connect people in rural and remote areas who have no Internet access.
A different kind of propulsion p
“The Propulsive Wing is a new patented aerodynamic platform that integrates an embedded, distributed cross-flow fan propulsion system within a thick wing.”
“The Raven® B DDL® system, an enhanced version of the battle proven Raven B system, is a lightweight solution designed for rapid deployment and high mobility for military applications, requiring low-altitude surveillance and reconnaissance intelligence…
Raven can be operated manually or programmed for autonomous operation, utilizing the system’s advanced avionics and precise GPS navigation. With a wingspan of 4.5 feet and a weight of 4.8 pounds, the hand-launched Raven provides aerial observation, day or night, at line-of-sight ranges up to 10 kilometers. The Raven, now available with an optional stablized gimbaled payload, delivers real-time color or infrared imagery to the ground control and remote viewing stations.” (Wikipedia)
Predator part B
Also called “Predator B,” the “much faster and larger Reaper, armed with Paveway II and GBU-38 joint direct attack munitions in addition to Hellfire missiles, ‘provides a unique capability to autonomously execute the kill chain against high-value, fleeting, and time-sensitive targets’.”
Small reconnaissance craft
“The Boeing Insitu ScanEagle is a small, low-cost, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) built by Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing. The ScanEagle was designed by Insitu based on the Insitu SeaScan, a commercial UAV that helped fishermen look for fish. The ScanEagle continues to be upgraded with improved technology and reliability…
ScanEagle needs no airfield for deployment. Instead, it is launched using a pneumatic launcher, patented by Insitu, known as the “SuperWedge” launcher. It is recovered using the “Skyhook” retrieval system, which uses a hook on the end of the wingtip to catch a rope hanging from a 30-to-50-foot (9.1 to 15 m) pole. This is made possible by high-quality differential GPS units mounted on the top of the pole and UAV. The rope is attached to a shock cord to reduce stress on the airframe imposed by the abrupt stop.” (Wikipedia)
senseFly is a Swiss company developing drones to take your own aerial photos and produce precise orthomosaics and 3D models.
Satellite intelligence for everyone
A recent WIRED article describes how one startup is aiming to put a network of low-cost imaging satellites in orbit.
“Here is the soaring vision that Skybox’s founders have sold the Valley: that kids from Stanford, using inexpensive consumer hardware, can ring Earth with constellations of imaging satellites that are dramatically cheaper to build and maintain than the models currently aloft. By blanketing the exosphere with its cameras, Skybox will quickly shake up the stodgy business (estimated to grow to $4 billion a year by 2018) of commercial space imaging. Even with six small satellites orbiting Earth, Skybox could provide practically real-time images of the same spot twice a day at a fraction of the current cost.” (WIRED)
One of several solar-powered surveillance platforms designed to stay in stratospheric altitude indefinitely.
Hoax or genius?
Is Tacocopter real? At DARC, you may get the answer you’ve been searching for.
“The Honeywell RQ-16A T-Hawk (for “Tarantula hawk”, a wasp species) is a ducted fan VTOL micro UAV. Developed by Honeywell, it is suitable for backpack deployment and single-person operation.” (Wikipedia). T-Hawk was used, for instance, to monitor Fukushima nuclear radiation following the 2011 East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.