In the world of multicopters and multi-rotor drones, the uses for these growing technologies are endless. The consumer multicopters may be used for things such as filming or aerial photography, scientific data collection, surveillance, or for examining areas out of reach of people. But what about using multicopter technology to dispose of hazardous waste? A team engineers at the Aerial Robotics Lab at Imperial London College have been working on a system that does exactly this.
The project, led by Dr. Mirko Kovac, is named ‘3D Printing with Flying Robots’ and has been ongoing for 12 months. The idea is to safely transport material that would be otherwise dangerous for transport by humans alone. The system consists of two multicopters, one a quad-rotor and one a hex-rotor, working in tandem to successfully transport hazardous material, such as nuclear waste, to a safe place for correct disposal.
The start of this process uses a quad-copter which hovers over the waste material and dispenses polyurethane foam onto it. The foam is carefully ‘printed’ onto the target package by use of a dispensing system and 16 infrared cameras. The next step is when the hex-copter will come in and land on top of the package and adhere to it due to the polyurethane foam. The hex-copter has a flat plate on the bottom in order to make certain that the foam adheres nicely to the hex-copter. After the foam sets, the hex-copter can fly the waste to a safe distance for proper disposal.
This tandem robot technology is considered the first step toward ‘robotic nesting’ behavior. The idea of these two multicopters working together autonomously to remove a hazardous package will open up new ideas for the future. This ‘nesting’ technique will allow for more range of the robots where they will be able to fly around, make a place to land out of danger and then recharge using solar cells.
“Swarms of flying robots will inhabit natural and urban areas as living sensor nodes that will be able to interact with the environment and move in varied terrain effectively,” says Dr. Kovac, “Other applications include the protection of the environment and natural habitats, early detection of forest fires, monitoring of pollution levels and humanitarian aid in search and rescue scenarios.”
When Dr. Kovac explained where the inspiration for such a project came from, the answer was simple; biology.
“Biological inspiration is key to build truly innovative technical solutions,” he says
There is a lot to learn from biology. Nature has a way in which everything tends to work together. By studying nature and implementing such aspects into a system design such as this, the outcomes will be inspiring. This is the first big project for the Aerial Robotics Lab at Imperial College London and they say there will be many new and exciting robotic developments in the future.
To read more about how multicopters are being used to dispose hazardous waste, click here