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Researchers Create Prototype Flying Robot

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Imagine being rescued from a fire by a robot in a jetpack.

Robotics engineers have been tinkering with the idea of disaster relief robots for a few years now. If such a technology could be perfected, we could have first-responder bots conducting search and rescue operations in environments that may be too hostile or otherwise inaccessible to humans. One team of researchers from the Italian Institute of Technology have decided the best course of action in developing a rescue bot is to strap jets to its limbs and back.

Daniele Pucci and his team at the Artificial and Mechanical Intelligence lab of the Italian Institute of Technology have spent years developing iRonCub, a humanoid robot designed to take to the skies in a manner not dissimilar to Iron Man, with powerful jet engines on its hands and feet, plus a more traditional jetpack strapped to its back. With its mildly unsettling bug-eyed face and shining silver parachute pants, it would definitely cut an unusual silhouette arriving on the scene of a rescue, but in a disaster situation, you can’t be picky.

“Aerial humanoid robotics extends aerial manipulation to a more robust and energy efficient level. In fact, aerial manipulation is often exemplified by quadrotors equipped with a robotic arm,” Pucci said in an interview with IEEE Spectrum. “These robots can’t move around by means of contact forces with the environment, and they often struggle with flying in windy environments while manipulating an object, requiring precise position control for accomplishing manipulation tasks. So the extra hand of a flying humanoid robot could establish a contact point between the robot and the environment, thus making the robot position control simpler and more robust.”

The researchers are currently in the midst of developing a software controller to safely guide iRonCub’s flight.