• Charl Jooste

The Omnicopter - a New Octocopter with Three Dimensional Thrust

Photo: Screenshot from YouTube video posted by user Dario Brescianini

Up until now, all multirotor drones, whether they were quad, hexa, octo or even those with a higher number of rotors, all had one thing in common, the rotors all operate on a single horizontal plane. Many of them are still remarkably nifty and are capable of amazing flight; they are, however, restrained by this design. It means that their thrust vector is restricted to one direction at a time.

The new octocopter changes all of that. With the new design, the rotors are positioned at different angles. The advantage of this design breakthrough is that it now allows you to manipulate the thrust independently and fly in any direction you wish, at any time. This makes the drone much more agile and can literally determine the thrust in three dimensions and the orientation of your choosing.

This amazing agility was impressively demonstrated in a video showing this new technology at work with a drone catching a ball. More on that later.

The "Fetching Omnicopter" was developed by researchers Raffaello D'Andrea and Dario Brescianini from the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control at ETH Zurich. While they note the amazing applications of existing drones in fields such as mapping, inspections, surveillance, search and rescue and a range of other uses, the next step would be to enable the drones to take a more active role in these applications, enabling them to actually perform physical functions in their operations, interacting with objects to pick up or move things and even assemble structures.

This is made significantly more practical with a rotor design such as the octocopter with the ability to control altitude and position independently and fly in any orientation. The researchers set out to develop a drone that would have that flying ability as well as the ability to physically manipulate objects. It also needed to have the ability to calculate the complex algorithms necessary to function effectively.

They mastered the new rotor design and then set to work on the algorithms necessary to generate the precise trajectories needed for such complex functioning. The result of their research was a system that calculates about 500,000 trajectories per second to perform these precision functions.

Video: YouTube user Dario Brescianini

In the video above, an electronic arm with a catch net was attached to the drone to demonstrate the ability on the drone to fly in the precise manner required while the algorithms calculate the exact angle, speed, position and the multitude of other factors necessary to catch a moving ball in mid-flight. The results speak for themselves and they certainly achieved what they set out to do.

As the ball is thrown, the algorithm has to instantly calculate the balls flight trajectory and work out the best route to catch the ball. It then sends the drone off to catch the ball in the net. This all is all done in 20 milliseconds.

The potential applications of this new development are exciting and will revolutionize the commercial use of drone technology. The researchers produced a paper on the Fetching Omnicopter which they presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) last year.

SOURCE: New Atlas

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