In a new video posted by IEEE Spectrum, a 7.38-kilogram red robot composed of 12 interlinking modules swiggles through a 60 cm gap before rising and floating in mid-air like the mythical Dragon it is named after.
Dragon — an “obvious” acronym for Dual-rotor embedded multilink Robot with the Ability of multi-deGree-of-freedom aerial transfromatiON — took Best UAV Paper honours at the 2018 ICRA robotics conference held late May in Brisbane, Australia.
A modular flying robot, DRAGON can hover, swing, spiral, coil, and transform into various shapes while in mid-air. Each module has a pair of ducted fan thrusters that propel the module directionally. The robot’s flight control unit is composed of an onboard IMU and an Intel Euclid, and a battery pack supports three minutes of flying time.
By coiling like an ouroboros, DRAGON can pick up objects, providing an alternative to drones and conventional grippers.
The principal investigator behind the project is Dr. Moju Zhao, who just this year obtained his PhD from the University of Tokyo. Zhao works as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechano-Informatics at the university’s Graduate School of Information Science and Technology.
In 2016, Zhao’s team first worked out a multilinked aerial robot system that could pass through narrow spaces or gaps in order to overcome “difficulties for existing structure of multirotors [in the] cluttered indoor environment of disaster sites.” The results are a concrete use case for increased dexterity in aerial robots.
The research was backed by the Jouhou System Kougaku Laboratory (JSK). Established at the University of Tokyo in 1977, the lab was also involved in the novel musculoskeletal humanoid Kengoro. Moving on 174 joints and powered by 116 motors, the human-sized robot wowed the internet with activities such as push-ups, sit-ups, and playing badminton. The JSK is led by Professors Masayuku Inaba and Kei Okada, has seven associate and assistant professors, and 49 students.
JSK spinoff SCHAFT is the mysterious company bought by Google in 2013 alongside Boston Dynamics.
Journalist: Meghan Han | Editor: Michael Sarazen