Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) avoid interacting with their environments. Aircraft “look, but don’t touch”, with UAVs avoiding contacting objects and obstacles around them.
However, the ability for small robotic aerial vehicles to grasp and manipulate objects around them has numerous applications across a variety of disciplines, including sample retrieval, highspeed courier services, intelligence gathering, and explosives disposal.
This task is very challenging due to the need to precisely position the aircraft over the target object to grasp with a rigid gripper, the coupled mechanics of ground forces and the inherent instability of rotorcrafts, and the presence of aerodynamic disturbances.
We have developed a robot helicopter integrated with a compliant gripper, able to directly grasp and transport objects while hovering in mid-air outdoors, without need for external motion sensors. The special tuned elasticity properties of the gripper allow the aircraft to robustly contact objects, using a stock fligh controller without inducing pathological destabilizing effects.