Category Archives: Drones

Army Drones, Gesturing Robots, and African Delivery Drones

Army Drones

The US Army is looking to roll out tiny drones allowing soldiers on the front lines to have remote sensing capability. This would allow them to look around corners, into buildings and over hills without exposing themselves. The hope is to have these in the field by 2018.

Drones such as these are not new to the military. The British use the 0.5 oz (15 gram) Prox Dynamics’ Black Hornet minicopter in such a role already.

Gesturing Robots

I came across this article (Gestures improve communication, even with robots) telling how British researchers have found that having robots gesture while they talk helps communication with humans. In this study the gestures were first made by a human, then duplicated by the robot.

I think it will be harder to have robots spontaneously gesture with their speech. Will this make robots more understandable, or make people more uncomfortable around them?

African Delivery Drones

Zipline - Zip Outbound

There has been a lot of talk about using drones for deliveries here in the US. In July of this year drones will start dropping medical supplies to remote hospitals and clinics in western Rwanda.

These will be relatively small packages weighing up to only 3.5 pounds, but the drones can fly at up to 180 miles an hour. It is estimated that the aircraft will be able to make between 50 and 150 deliveries a day, so the actual amount of supplies able to be delivered is significant. With this drone delivery network, supplies can be ordered and delivered to locations up to 90 miles away within 30 minutes.

The drones to be used are being supplied by Zipline. This startup has a complete business plan around the delivery of medical supplies. The aircraft will fly to the delivery location then drop the supplies by parachute.

Humanoid Robot, Spherical Drone and Drone at Sea

A few things that are robot and AI related.

I saw this article “Building a humanoid Hollywood star” yesterday and was surprised at how one man could create such a realistic (think uncanny valley realistic) robot as a hobby project. This $50,000 project resulted in a life-size robot that looks remarkably like Scarlett Johansson.

3D printing is one of the technologies that enabled 42 year old Ricky Ma of Hong Kong to construct his robot. The robot motions are not very smooth and it has a limited vocabulary, but I think the results are amazing considering he is doing this on his own.

Follow the link above to the Reuters story that includes a brief video showing his robot in operation.



(video from Unmanned Cowboys web site)

Graduate student Ben Loh has taken his Phd project, and with the assistance of Oklahoma State University faculty and some business partners, has created Unmanned Cowboys LLC. What makes Loh’s drone, ATLAS (All Terrain Land and Air Sphere) somewhat unique is that it is spherical and it can fly, hover or roll on the ground. Unmanned Cowboys is targeting the drone for use by emergency responders, the military and private companies.


DARPA will soon christen it’s 130 ft autonomous drone anti-submarine ship. The ACTUV (Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel) is currently undergoing tests. In addition to tracking unknown submarines, the vessel could be tasked to deliver supplies or perform reconnaissance.


Are Those Flying Cars Finally Here?

I saw a couple of announcements in the last week that seem to imply that flying cars (well . . . sort of cars) may finally be filling the sky.

Photo Dec 30, 07 47 57-R

One is the ‘AirMule’ VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) from Israeli based Tactical Robotics a subsidiary of  Urban Aeronautics. The described the AirMule on their web site as a “compact, unmanned, single-engine, VTOL (Vertical Take Off and
Landing) aircraft.  Internal lift rotors enable the AirMule to fly inside obstructed (e.g. mountainous, wooded, urban) terrain where helicopters are unable to operate. The AirMule is innovative due to its internal rotors and significant payload capacity that allows for the evacuation of 2 casualties as well as fast and flexible payload reconfiguration for other missions.  It is also ideally suited to special robotic operation, for example via Tele-Presence.

With a capacity of over 90 cubic feet and just over 1100 lbs, the AirMule has many applications in emergency response as well as the military. The internal lift motors enable the AirMule to fly in obstructed environments, such as mountainous, wooded or urban
settings, that are difficult for helicopters. The AirMule has already gone through some flight testing, so it’s appearance may not be too far in the future.


A similar aircraft shown at CES is the 184 from Chinese company EHang. EHang touts the 184 Autonomous Aerial Vehicle (AAV) as “the safest, Eco-est and Smartest low altitude autonomous aerial vehicle, aiming on providing Medium-Short Distance communication and transportation solution. The 184 AAV is designed with full redundancy – If one set of the power system are operating abnormal, the vehicle can still operate a normal flight plan and ensure the safety of the passenger together with the vehicle.

The 184 was designed to be a 100% with green technology, and is powered by electricity only. Four arms and eight propellers offer great lifting power and safety. Even with one propeller
malfunctions, it can still land in the nearest possible area safely.

Said to be available later in 2016 for $200,000 to $300,000, this aircraft could provide autonomously piloted travel for a single passenger. The 440 lb craft can fly to over 11,000 ft and has a speed of just over 60 mph. Having a payload of 264 lbs, this would not accommodate everyone. Nor is the 23 minute battery charge going to provide much of a range.

Drones Mix Technology and Art


I came across an article recently describing how Intel with Ars Electronica Futurelab had put together a drone light show to rival fireworks displays. This show utilized 100 quadcopters equiped with LED lighting. They make up the “Spaxels” (three dimensional pixels) that Ars Electronica then used to ‘draw’ figures in the air. Are Electronica has been presenting Spaxel based performances since 2012.

The Drone 100 show was held at Flugplatz Ahrenlohe, Tornesch, Germany last November. Video footage of the event was first publicly shown at CES last week during Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s keynote address. What sets this performance apart is that it set the Guinness record for the most unmanned aerial vehicles airborne simultaneously. You can see a video of the brief drone performance
at Ars Electronica’s web site.

I don’t know if drone performances like this will replace traditional fireworks displays, but I can certainly see where shows of this type could find their way into all sorts of events. I look forward to seeing one in person, hopefully soon.