ETH Zurich Develops New Drone Structures and Controls

Raffaello D'Andrea from ETH Zurich demonstrates several new drones and new control methods.

Raffaello D’Andrea says that drones are ready to become a multi-billion dollar industry. Journalism, photography, agriculture, environmental protection and quality inspections are the leading industries that can benefit from drones. In his TED Talk Meet the dazzling flying machines of the future, D’Andrea gives an update on some of his latest drone projects.

Raffaello tries to teach the robots how to interact with the physical world, by carrying loads and overcoming disruptions to the plan. For robots to function autonomously as a group, each robot must know the location of the others in three dimensional space. Fixed cameras help drones to understand positioning in D’Andrea’s lab in ETH Zurich. The demonstrations on the TED floor used onboard sensors for the drones to understand position and make decisions. He says that the only external commands are the high level control commands, telling the machine to ‘take off’ or ‘land’.

A tail-sitter is demonstrated as a two propeller fixed wing aircraft that can hover. D’Andrea’s team is working to developing new controls for the tail-sitter to allow it to recover from disturbances and disruptions like wind gusts.

The monospinner is a craft that was built when the design team asked the minimum number of moving parts required to make an aircraft fly. The monospinner is still in development so a video is shown instead of a live demonstration, because perfect flight requires the craft to be launched up in the air in an exact orientation.

An omnicopter has eight propellers and will fly in any orientation. Maneuvering is easy because it can move in space regardless of which direction is required or which way the craft is facing. The final demonstration is a synthetic swarm that shows several commercial quadcopters modified with control algorithms. When every piece knows its exact position in space along with the position of its swarm mates, there should be no limit to the number of microcopters in a swarm.

Raffaello D’Andrea tells us throughout the talk that drones need to be safe and reliable, and pushes the idea that drone capability is growing every year. This is a great demonstration of what one lab is doing through advanced controls – we’ve covered D’Andrea’s TED Talks here before and hopefully he will come back to reveal more aircraft soon.