A resurrected hover vehicle won’t fly through dense forests as effortlessly as the speeder bikes from Return of the Jedi, but its intuitive controls could someday allow anyone to fly it without pilot training.
The aerial vehicle resembles a science fiction flying bike with two ducted rotors instead of wheels, but originates from a design abandoned in the 1960s because of stability and rollover problems.
Aerofex, a California-based firm, fixed the stability issue by creating a mechanical system — controlled by two control bars at knee-level — that allows the vehicle to respond to a human pilot’s leaning movements and natural sense of balance.
“Think of it as lowering the threshold of flight, down to the domain of ATV’s (all-terrain vehicles),” said Mark De Roche, an aerospace engineer and founder of Aerofex.
Such intuitive controls could allow physicians to fly future versions of the vehicle to visit rural patients in places without roads, or enable border patrol officers to go about their duties without pilot training. All of it happens mechanically without the need for electronics, let alone complicated artificial intelligence or flight software.
“It essentially captures the translations between the two in three axis (pitch, roll and yaw), and activates the aerodynamic controls required to counter the movement — which lines the vehicle back up with the pilot,” De Roche told InnovationNewsDaily. “Since [the pilot’s] balancing movements are instinctive and constant, it plays out quite effortlessly to him.”
But Aerofex does not plan to immediately develop and sell a manned version. Instead, the aerospace firm sees the aerial vehicle as a test platform for new unmanned drones — heavy-lift robotic workhorses that could use the same hover technology to work in agricultural fields, or swiftly deliver supplies to search-and-rescue teams in rough terrain.
Even the soldiers or Special Forces might use such hover drones to carry or deliver heavy supplies in the tight spaces between buildings in cities. U.S. Marines have already begun testing robotic helicopters to deliver supplies in Afghanistan.
The hovering drones would not fly as efficiently as helicopters because of their shorter rotor blades, but their enclosed rotors have the advantage of a much smaller size and safety near humans.
“They are less efficient than a helicopter, which has the benefit of larger diameter rotors,” De Roche explained. “They do have unique performance advantages, though, as they have demonstrated flight within trees, close to walls and under bridges.”
Aerofex has currently limited human flight testing to a height of 15 feet and speeds of about 30 mph, but more out of caution rather than because of any technological limits. Older versions of the hover vehicles could fly about as fast as helicopters, De Roche said.
Flight testing in California’s Mojave Desert led to the presentation of a technical paper regarding Aerofex’s achievements at the Future Vertical Lift Conference in January 2012. The company plans to fly a second version of its vehicle in October, and also prepare an unmanned drone version for flight testing by the end of 2013.
This article originally published at InnovationNewsDaily
Let’s get this meme party started.
The latest episode of Star Wars is now upon us and has unleashed a new era of science fantasy robots, or droids as they are known.
But droids have been at the heart of the epic science fantasy saga since the original Star Wars movie back in 1977, when C-3PO uttered the immortal words:
I am C-3PO, human-cyborg relations. And this is my counterpart R2-D2.
Star Wars has always been a droid story, just as much as a story about the Skywalker family.
Even though we all know that Star Wars happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, just how good has it been a predicting the usefulness and development of robots on our own planet today?
Is that you R2?
For those non-Star Wars experts reading this, R2-D2 is an R-series astromech droid. Such droids work on spaceships and are particularly good at working outside in the vacuum of space. They are the mechanics of space travel and are packed with tools and know-how to fix things. They also seem to be fully waterproof, can fly short distances using deployable thrusters and somehow possess a cheeky character.
But did you know that working in orbit around Earth right now is NASAs Robonaut 2, also known as R2. It is one of the International Space Stations test bed droids, having a humanoid shape and proportions so that it can undertake maintenance tasks originally designed for human astronauts.
Robonaut2 or R2 for short from NASA and General Motors, is a robot designed to work side-by-side with people in difficult or dangerous places on Earth and in space. NASA
Perhaps in the future, when all spaceship maintenance will be performed by droids, this real R2 unit will replace the humanoid form.
The diplomatic droid
The golden humanoid C-3PO is a protocol droid fluent in more than six million forms of communication. A protocol droids primary purpose in Star Wars is to help non-droids, creatures of all kinds, communicate with one another and generally avoid potentially dangerous misunderstandings.
If there were protocol droids in Mos Eisleys Cantina then maybe no-one would have shot first! But as the bartender said of R2-D2 and C-3PO: We dont serve their kind here.
We have human diplomats in our world to negotiate and attempt to head off conflict, and there seems no need for a mechanical interface such as a protocol droid.
But we are seeing translation apps on our phones and their accuracy is improving to the point where it is conceivable that live language translation between two people speaking to one another may not be too far away. Until we find non-human sentient equals then there will be few diplomatic jobs for C-3PO-like droids here on earth.
A place that we are likely to see humanoid robots like C-3PO is as artificial companions and carers. The advantage of a humanoid robot is that it should be able to cope in our homes or care facilities as they have all been designed for humans.
This is one of the great advantages of the humanoid robot form, although there is the so-called uncanny valley to deal with and the feeling by some that we should always ensure people have a human touch.
Best Star Wars Droids
A way of thinking about the dozens of droids of Star Wars is to classify them by how they are used. We have seen them being used in applications as diverse as farming, medicine, war, torture and space exploration.
When R2-D2 and C-3PO escape Darth Vader and land in their escape pod on the sand plant of Tatooine, they are picked up by the Jawas scavenging for droids to sell to local moisture farmers. The lack of labour on Tatooine results in droids being critical for the functioning of the farms.
Note to non-Star Wars experts: Darth Vader himself, or the least a young Anakin Skywalker, built C-3PO on Tatooine from spare parts.
Robots down on the farm.
Many other research organisations and companies are developing agricultural robotics as a way of overcoming labour availability issues, reducing the cost of inputs such as diesel and herbicide, and enabling the use of smaller machines that compact the soil less than the large tractors we see commonly used today.
In the Star Wars movies, medical droids appear at critical moments. The medical droids 2-1B and FX-7 twice patched up Luke in The Empire Strikes Back. Once when he survived the Wampa attack on Hoth and then again at the end when they grafted on a robotic hand to Luke after his father sliced it off.
An EW-3 midwife droid even helped Padm give birth to the twins Luke and Leia just prior to her tragic death.
Here on Earth, Google has been talking about its plans for new medical robots. Its teaming up with medical device companies to develop new robotic assistants for minimally invasive surgery.
Medical robotic assistants have already become a common sight in well-equipped modern hospitals and are being used to help surgeons during urology procedures and more recently for knee replacements. New research is also showing how novel tentacle-like robot arms may be used to get to difficult to reach places.
The hope is that medical robotics will enable shorter training times for surgeons, lengthen a surgeons career and improve outcomes for patients. All these benefits could drive the cost of these procedures down, giving access to more people around the world.
Unsurprisingly, there are many droids in the Star Wars universe dedicated to killing. In Episodes I-III, the Trade Federation used droid starfighters. These were spaceships that were droids themselves and the droid command ships housed thousands of them.
The Trade Federation were also fans of deploying thousands of humanoid shaped B1 Battle Droids. Although they were relatively well equipped, they seemed stupid and were even worse shots than Stormtroopers. The far more capable Destroyer Droids had deflector shields and rapid fire laser cannons.
Killer robots and their development is a hot topic right now on Earth. A campaign has been started with the aim of developing arms controls and some killer robots have already been deployed.
In the Middle East, drones are routinely used to deliver missiles. These are human controlled and are not autonomous but they are changing the face of conflict.
In the DMZ between the Koreas you will find fully autonomous robots equipped with heavy duty, long-range machine guns. If they spot movement in the DMZ they are capable of firing. There is no need for a human in the command chain. They are real Destroyer Droids.
What is missing?
Even though we can see many examples of how the droids of Star Wars may have inspired the design of the robots of today, there is one major missing piece of technology that means our robots are nothing like a Star Wars droid. And that is the almost complete lack of reliable and capable artificial intelligence in our robots.
Nearly all of the human created robots that I have mentioned rely entirely on a human expert to either control them remotely or program them to do a small range of very specific tasks. The robots that we have today are not very autonomous.
Most of them cannot see, and even if they could, engineers have yet to develop artificial intelligence to the point where a robot by itself could solve a meaningful problem it may encounter in the world.
Really smart robots are coming and many people are working hard to tackle the challenges but we are not likely to see general-purpose droids in the near future. We have a long time to go, and are far, far away from welcoming cute robot companions such as R2-D2 and BB-8 into our homes and workplaces. Until then, lets just all enjoy Star Wars.
— Cat Cosplay (@Cat_Cosplay) December 15, 2016
— Nerdist (@nerdist) December 15, 2016
— K-2SO (@K2S_O) December 15, 2016
— 9GAG (@9GAG) December 15, 2016
*RT if excited beep* #RogueOne
— BB8 (@BB8) December 15, 2016
Dear Warmongering Nutbags,
I’m going to see #RogueOne tonight so please don’t start World War III until morning.
— Dave Rubin (@RubinReport) December 15, 2016
— Good Morning America (@GMA) December 15, 2016
— 12 DAYS OF STAR WARS (@12DAYSTARWARS) December 15, 2016
Christmas this year will see a full Moon for the first time in 38 years and in an odd cosmic coincidence, the last time we had one on Christmas was the year Star Wars: A New Hopewas released (1977). This year, of course, sees the return of the franchise with The Force Awakens.
The Moon will be entirely illuminated by the Sun at 6:11 a.m. EST (11:11 a.m. GMT) on Friday December 25, so youll see the brightest Moon at night either side of that time. This comes three days after the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice, on Tuesday December 22.
Christmas Eve will also see the ISS travel through the sky for observersin the U.K., with it movingfrom west to southeast from5:19 to 5:26p.m. GMT although we all know, really, its Santas sleigh making its way around the world.
The next full Moon on Christmas will appear in 2034, so you can probably hope for Star Wars: Episode 10around then.
[H/T: ABC News]
For all youboys and girls who dream ofone dayrulingthe galaxy with a tremendous weapon of mass destruction, NASA has some suggestions for you. The trick is to mine asteroids and use the material to construct the Death Star directly in space.
In a video on Wired, Brian Muirhead, chief engineer at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory, illustrates how the Asteroid Redirect Mission will look at the feasibility of asteroid mining, and although the missiondoesnt exactly show you how to build a Death Star, it will dosomething nobody has done before. In 2023, a probe will capturea boulder and carry it intolunar orbit, where a group of astronauts will later visitto mine some of the asteroid material.
But is Muirhead right about using asteroids? Could we start building a mega structurearound Earth in 2016? Let’s take a quick look at the calculations involved.
According to Wookieepedia, the first Death Star has a radius of 60 kilometers (37 miles), which corresponds to a volume of about 904,000 cubic kilometers (217,000 cubic miles). Finding the mass of such an object is quite difficult, as we dont exactly know the internal structure, the building materials used, etc.
To simplify this problem, we imagined that the Death Star would be built similarly to an aircraft carrier, so we used the USS Ranger,which has a density of 210 kilograms (460 pounds)per cubic meter. This gives us a mass of 190 trillion tonnes (187 trillion US tons).
Above, Wired’s interview withMuirhead.
Now, a medium-small asteroid is on paper the perfect candidate: It is about the right mass and it isrich in iron and carbon (to make steel), as well as other material that can be used in the construction. But is it cheaper mining the material on Earth and sending it to space, or to directly mine asteroids?
Sending stuff into space costs about $20,000 (13,000) per kilogram, so assembling the Death Star would cost us $40,000 billion billion dollars (we’re not converting that to ). That’s about a billion times more expensive than all the Earths economies combined.
The boulderthat the Asteroid Redirect Mission will capture is about 450,000 kilograms(500 tons)and the mission will cost $2.6 billions (1.7 billion). This is the cost of retrieval, so lets assume that the mining cost is equivalent. If the asteroid is completely mined, the material would cost $10,400 (6,900)per kilogram. Of course, it’s unlikely to have 100 percentof any particular metal, so the prices are likely to be a bit skewed. On paper though,it’s possibly comparable.
But dont wave yourlightsabers in celebration just yet. There are many unknown variables when it comes to mining asteroids, which could easily increase the price of materials. On Earth, onlyone in 5,000 to10,000 prospected mines goes into production, and the chances of mining an asteroid might be just as dire. But hey, when it comes to asteroids, never tell us the odds.