By Evan Ackerman

As amazing as flying robots are, there's a limited amount of useful stuff that they can do today. Oh, they're great for surveillance and inspection, there's potential to use them to deliver stuff, and in some specialized circumstances we've seen them cooperatively building structures. But to really be useful in the way that we've come to expect from robots, they're going to need to be able to move a variety of objects at will, picking them up and putting them down whenever and wherever they need to. We saw some of the first examples of this at IROS, giving a whole new meaning to the term “mobile manipulator.”

The easiest way to put a mobile manipulator on a UAV is to just bolt a robot arm right on there, which is what DLR (the German Aerospace Center) is trying out. They've got a 7-DOF KUKA industrial arm mounted upside-down underneath an autonomous, turbine-powered mini helicopter. Using an on-board vision system, the robot is able to detect and grasp a pole stuck into the ground. This is tricker than it sounds, because even as the helicopter moves the base of the arm, whenever the arm moves, it changes the center of gravity of the system and moves the helicopter as well:

In terms of practicality, this is simply the very first step, but DLR is looking forward to some heavy lifting:

We think that for many practical applications the usage of a fully actuated arm with a payload of about 10 kg is required. So the setup we presented in this paper is a starting point for practical investigations of these applications and for developing of corresponding technologies.

“First Analysis and Experiments in Aerial Manipulation Using Fully Actuated Redundant Robot Arm,” by Felix Huber, Konstantin Kondak, Kai Krieger, Dominik Sommer, Marc Schwarzbach, Maximilian Laiacker, Ingo Kossyk, Sven Parusel, Sami Haddadin, and Alin Albu-Schaffer from the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics, DLR, was presented earlier this month at IROS 2013 in Tokyo, Japan.

Full article here: UAVs with robotic arms

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  • Dramatic, but: Size of UAV guarantees massive downwash/turbulence, lighter target objects will be displaced or blown away, plus sheer size of UAV restricts access. Suggest small quad with gripper and just enough power to fly itself around, tethered to loitering heavy lifter. Little guy grabs target object and shuts down, gets reeled in by (or just hangs from) "mother ship." Lots of possible variations on this theme, for example small quad could disengage entirely from gripper and land after target is grabbed. Or heavy lifter could remain on ground during attachment. And so on. 

  • Does anyone know what model and make the chopper is? I haven't seen it before.

  • Yeah, not quite "mini".  More like "small".  ;)

  • love how the video is titled mini helicopter :P epic tech

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