Aerial Humanoid Robotics
We give humanoid robots the ability to fly.
Every year, about 300 natural disasters kill around 90.000 humans and affect 160 million people across the world. When analyzed individually, the balance of natural disasters may be even more frightening. The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami killed around 230.000 humans on 14 countries, caused 140.000 wounded, and consequently 1.74 million people had to be taken care and displaced.
Unfortunately, Robotics is still lagging behind to offer affordable solutions in these disaster scenarios. For instance, observe the picture below.
This is the city of Natori, Japan, after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. On one hand, in these contexts humanoid robots may be employed for indoor inspection and manipulation tasks, but the robots would struggle with outdoor inspection. In fact, bipedal locomotion (i.e. walking) on difficult terrains remains a big challenge to these days.
On the other hand, Aerial Manipulation conceives flying robots with robotic arms, thus circumventing the problem of terrestrial locomotion but preserving the capacity of manipulationg objects.
Picture from DLR.de
These robots, however, struggle with moving in indoor and confined environments (e.g. inside houses), without considering their energy consumption during these tasks.
In light of the above, the current state of the art in Robotics lacks a platform able to combine the following capabilities:
1. Manipulation: to open doors, move objects, close valves, etc;
2. Aerial locomotion: to perform outdoor inspection and to move from one building to another
3. Bipedal Terrestrial locomotion: to perform indoor inspection and climb stairs
Hence, we define Aerial Humanoid Robotics as the outcome of the platforms having the three above capacities
Aerial locomotion +
Bipedal lerrestrial locomotion =
Aerial Humanoid Robotics
Then, to implement the Aerial Humanoid Robotics, our main approach is to take the humanoid robot iCub and equip it with jet turbines
To implement the Aerial Humanoid Robotics onto the humanoid robot iCub, we carry out research activities along different directions.
Research on the flight control of flying humanoid robots
We research on Lyapunov-quadratic-programming based control algorithms to regulate both the attitude and the position of the humanoid robot. The control algorithms work independently from the number of jet turbines installed on the robot, and ensure also that the satisfaction of some physical constraints associated with the jet engines (maximum derivative and positivity of the thrust, minimum and maximum robot joiunt angles, etc.)
The video above, for instance, uses a different jet configuration than the first (scroll up) in this page. This can be achieved easily using our control framework for flying humanoid robots.
Experimental research on jet turbines and co-design
To implement the Aerial Humanoid Robotics on the real iCub, we need experimental activities aimed at modelling and identification of the jet turbines. For this reason, we have developed sophisticated test-bench for identifying the input-output relationship of the jet turbines.
Research on Computational Fluid Dynamics for aerodynamics modelling
The aerodynamics of a single rigid body is a complex matter. Consequently, dealing with the aerodynamics of a multi-body system - as a flying humanoid robot is - leavs little space for closed form expressions of the aerodynamic effects, and it is not what we aim to do. So, our approach to evaluate the aerodynamic effects on the flying humanoid robot is to perform CFD simulations using Ansys, and then extract a simplified model to use in the control deisgn.