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Smart Flying Robots 79

Chernyakov writes "MARVIN, a fully autonomous RC helicopter built by the Technische Universitaet Berlin, won the 2000 International Aerial Robotics Competition. MARVIN has a radio-linked ground station consisting of several networked Linux machines (which provide the computing power for vision, mapping and flight-course generation). The robots' mission is to fly into a disaster area complete with fire, water and smoke hazards, to locate and avoid threats to itself, to find bodies, distinguish from survivors and the dead, identify hazardous materials containers, determine if the container contents are radioactive, biohazardous, or explosive (by reading the labels), generate a detailed map of the disaster area, photograph the area, and return safely back to base. MARVIN pulled it off completely autonomously, with no human help or intervention. High quality (90 MB) and Low quality (12 MB) MPEGs of the robot are available."
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Smart Flying Robots

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  • by RottenDeadite ( 137213 ) <cnelsonweb@hotm a i l . c om> on Friday November 17, 2000 @02:24PM (#616563) Journal
    What happens when he gets all depressed? Do the robots start trying to kill themselves?

    ***JUMP PAD ACTIVATION INITIATION START***
    ***TRANSPORT WHEN READY***

  • This is excellent advancement. The more places we can use robotics to replace humans in places of danger, the better.

    Heres a thought...how many of these sorts of "disasters" are created by humans? If more robotics are used in daily life, could human error be downplayed, therefore reducing the situations in which humans might be put into danger? Prevention is the best cure, they say...
  • by Uruk ( 4907 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @02:27PM (#616565)
    It's going to do all of those things, eh?

    I don't know how they're coding it, but they're probably going to hype it as "Artificial Intelligence"!!!!!

    What if the person is unconcious? Is that a dead person or an alive person? What if they're alive, but not breathing? Could it even tell if they were breathing? Could I fool the machine into thinking I was dead?

    The problem with these types of things is that they fall into two categories - machines that are so totally wrong in what and how they judge things that they aren't even worth looking at, and machines that are right some of the time, and so horrendously wrong when it counts that they aren't worth looking at.

    Well that's my cynical $0.02 anyway.
  • The Paranoid Android?
  • Attack of the Killer Robots, guys. Think about it.

  • Funny, he doesn't look like the martian from looney tunes ;-)
  • by Plum ( 253578 )
    I think this was one of those "you had to be there" kinda videos. I'm sure they worked really hard, and it must have been a lot of hard work, but I'm bored to piss over the seemingly endless shots of a hovering "something", set to a techno soundtrack befitting a Mortal Kombat 9 trailer...
  • Alright, aerial battle bots have gotta be next!
  • The robots' mission is to fly into a disaster area complete with fire, water and smoke hazards, to locate and avoid threats to itself, to find bodies, distinguish from survivors and the dead, identify hazardous materials containers, determine if the container contents are radioactive, biohazardous, or explosive (by reading the labels), generate a detailed map of the disaster area, photograph the area, and return safely back to base.

    Neat, who would have thought my OS would help me survive one of Hotblacks shows??

  • Well no wonder Marvin is such a menial robot!

  • The problem with these types of things is that they fall into two categories - machines that are so totally wrong in what and how they judge things that they aren't even worth looking at, and machines that are right some of the time, and so horrendously wrong when it counts that they aren't worth looking at.

    Sounds like the censorware from the last article.

  • This is just the kind of thing I like to see. Thank you, slashdot, for having some interesting and current news. Even if it is rare.

    I've actually been considering building a radio controlled vehicle for firefighters to use to survey a burning building before entering it. I figure each one would cost a grand or so and would probably be electric, just because then it wouldn't depend on oxygen for combustion. Not to mention, the two-stroke model car engines are loud and touchy. I haven't used any of the four-strokes yet.

    Does anyone know if there are any autonomous systems which operate on the ground which are used for search and rescue?

  • by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @02:41PM (#616575)
    "A brain the size of a Beowulf cluster, and what do they have me do? Fly around disasters taking pictures..." *sigh*
  • by Idaho ( 12907 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @02:42PM (#616576)
    Yeah, but I don't think this is exactly the point. It can go where normal people can't, and even if it can't determine whether a person is dead or not, it can at least keep itself safe so you don't have to build new ones all the time.

    And if it can take pictures all around the place, that's real cool.

    I am living in Enschede, a city in the Netherlands where a fireworks bunker exploded half a year ago. This robot could have been usefull to fly over the (possible very dangerous) site to take pictures and determine the situation, without the risks of loosing even more peoples lifes.

    And it can be real handy for the police afterwards, to determine how things actually happened (like 'hey, that container full of fireworks wasn't supposed to be standing there!')
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I've seen the specs for such autonomous aerial vehicles before and I've always had the same suspision: read those requirements back and think: "can someone use this to kill someone" and "is this the ideal assasin?" and then maybe the huge amounts of money the DoD has poured into AAVs will start making sense...
  • #!c
    include kill.o

    open missle compartment
    missles = 20
    fire missiles
    /* if people dead 200 then goto 20
    goto 10

    20
    missionaccomplished()
    load destroyworld.h
    destroyworld = 1

    end()


  • by webmaven ( 27463 ) <webmaven@@@cox...net> on Friday November 17, 2000 @02:45PM (#616579) Homepage
    Check out the aerobot [moller.com]. This VTOL aircraft uses ducted fans insead of a conventional rotating airfoil, and is capable of autonomous take-offs and landings. Also check out the wankel-powered [moller.com] Skycar [moller.com].

    --
  • I think the battery weight would be a problem, as far as i know 2 stroke is used for its horsepower to fuel+engine weight ratio
  • I hope we have these things at BattleBots [battlebots.com] pretty damn soon. heh heh heh...
  • sorry my comment got screwed. Maybe i put in a tag or something


  • Since this post is obviously missing up till now:

    'Can I have a beowulf cluster of those?'

    Yeah, and when it is standing idle it could calculate the purpose of life or even better, SETI@home or distributed.net blocks :-)

    [Browse at -1 to read this post. At least, that is where I think it should be]
  • EEEEWWWEe that earth creature just stole my plutonium 238 space modulator. Ahh yeah I can see this thing now, all gold with a frilly red crest on top and a green metal skirt:) --toq
  • by torpor ( 458 ) <ibisum.gmail@com> on Friday November 17, 2000 @02:49PM (#616585) Homepage Journal
    It lies down in the mud for a few million years, and when asked why, replies:

    "It's a wonderful way of being wretched."

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Yeah they forgot to mention the secret government contract to use the robots for marshall law. Our government knows that our military wont turn on its citizens so now they can use these robots to do the job. Clinton signed the documents last year giving the military the right to declare martial law. These robots will be perfect after a terrorist bombing to force people into the FEMA workcamps. If you don't know what I'm talking about lookup FEMA workcamps on google.
  • If anyone can mirror the video, that would be great. Put it in Freenet or Mojo Nation!

    -glenn

    P.S. Linking from Slashdot to 90 meg video files in Germany is not the best idea.
  • Damn... I can't wait to see this video.
  • "that earth creature just stole my plutonium 238 space modulator"

    Shouldn't that be "Eludum Q-38 Space Modulator"?

    You make me so very, very angry! (Another Marvin Quote. :)...

    "Where's the Kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering 'Kaboom'!"
  • they said they would have these flying ufo thingies that go into stores and buy food for you on tv. they said that they would be marketed and used by 2000. haha. Now they say the're going to create a helicopter that goes into a fire, takes photos, determines if things are readioactive by reading the labels and come back.. HAHA losers.


  • If the shoe fits...
    If the robot can make deterministic judgements following rules as to a persons health status, that is AI. No hype about it.
    I can also see where the system could purposely use logic to fail on the side of a human being alive when they are not instead of the other way arround.
    I imagine that determining the persons health status being one of the simpler of the tasks that the robot has to do. Finding people and avoiding problems is hard for us people, let alone for a robot.

    Give the people more credit.

    I see four categories for these machines, not two...
    Those that outperform expectations
    those that meet expectations
    those that don't meet expectations
    and those that fit into your classifications.
  • Really? I thought the robots on BattleBots were supposed to fight each other.

    How do you think they would score that?

    Fires put out
    Aerial surveys taken
    Women and Children Rescued?
    Labels Read for hazardous materials

  • It could be used for low budget "search+rescue" but it's probably more useful to the defense department as "disposable hardware"
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm of the opinion that Slashdot really needs to mirror a third of the sites that are linked to, or at least the giant gobs of multimedia content. I think VA can afford a few cheap servers to spit out static content. Seriously, 90MB in Germany. If the movies had been mirrored, the .de site would still be up.
  • I'd much rather have smart flying robots than stupid flying robots. Imagine how much of a nuicence those would be. Much worse than black flies.
  • sorry i only saw it on tv (TLC) TLC likes to lie.


  • They also the world would be covered by a massive network of computers that acted as a single global entertainment and information medium accessible to the masses. Commonly predicted in the 70's as 20-30 years away.
  • by Chernyakov ( 215515 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @03:34PM (#616598)
    In order to fly autonomously (by itself), MARVIN uses a LOT of hardware: 3 accelerometers, 3 gyroscopes, 3 compasses (redundancy), 2 ultrasonic range finders, a differential GPS system (accurate to 2 centimeters), a fire detector, and an altimeter. It also has an onboard CPU, communications equipment, power distribution, etc.

    The helicopter itself looks like a standard .60-size XCell.

    Anyone who has ever flown an RC helicopter knows how difficult it is for a human, much less a computer. The software usually involves use of a Kalmon Filter to fuse the sensors, and neural networks to build fuzzy control rules for the flight surfaces (aileron, rudder, collective, etc) in real-time.

    The video, boring for some, shows the helicopter taking off and flying over the disaster area. The heli adjusts its location constantly for better views of targets then flies away and lands. There are good shots of the ground station showing Mission Control, robot-vision, and flight-path mapping. Also some good shots of not-so-successful flights and what can go wrong.

    This is the tenth year of the IAR Competition; each year the mission gets more complicated. In 1991, autonomous flying vehicles (no hovercraft) simply needed to pick up a disc at one end of the field and drop it off at a deposit-point on the other end. No one completed the mission that year.

    As a side point, let me just say that technology can always be used for evil, but development of robots such as these are most useful in what the industry terms D^3 (D-cubed) environments: Dull, Dirty, and Dangerous.
    Dull: Flying over thousands of acres of forest painstakingly examining almost each tree for insect damage.
    Dirty: A disaster area with potential exposure to lethal gases and the like.
    Dangerous: Photographing a volcano for threat analysis.

    I have a copy of the 90 MB mpeg -- I'll try to mirror it on Mojo Nation, but my one-way cable modem might not like it.
  • The aerobot might be nice, but like the aerocar, it's not in production yet and is hideously expensive right now. The UAV guys that win usually use modified rc helicopters - no point in reinventing the wheel, especially since there's a perfectly good wheel right there that only costs $1k and has been around for a while. The real competition is in developing the smarts and sensors to make the flying platform perform something useful. Those hazards are impressive too - jets of water and flame, oh boy!
  • What if the person is unconcious? Is that a dead person or an alive person? What if they're alive, but not breathing? Could it even tell if they were breathing? Could I fool the machine into thinking I was dead?

    What the heck is your point? That this thing is useless because it doesn't save us the tedious effort of figuring out for ourselves if someone is dead?

    The idea is that it can do an autonomous first-pass assesment of a scene, without putting any more humans into immediate danger. A human can then use the information to make more intelligent decisions on what to do next to minimize the loss of life.

    Give your head a shake; they're not trying to automate the entire rescue process.

  • Dude, hard to take you seriously when you can't spell martial law...

    ----

  • I don't know about you all, but those "disaster areas" remind me an awful lot of my apartment.

    ____________________________
    "File swapping on the internet is putting at risk nothing less than human progress and prosperity"
    --Microsoft quote
  • Could I fool the machine into thinking I was dead?

    Why would you want to do that? You should be happy that someone wants to rescue you ;) .

  • by Apuleius ( 6901 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @04:18PM (#616604) Journal
    "If a man is in need of rescue, an airplane can come in and throw flowers on him, and that's just about all. But a direct lift aircraft could come in and save his life."

    Helicopter pioneer Igor Sikorsky



    However, the helicopter did come to be
    used for other purposes.
    Party pooping away,

    --Apuleius

  • the subject says it all.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Oops, try this one:
    http://a516.g.akamai.net/7/516/1/f15ee829e2faf2/ pdv.cs.tu-berlin.de/MARVIN/pressevideo.mpg

  • Not to be picky or anything but in order for me to consider it a proper robot, it's computing power must be onboard. Remote control devices are a bit short of the concept of being robots..
  • The robots' mission is to fly into a disaster area complete with fire, water and smoke hazards, to locate and avoid threats to itself, to find bodies, distinguish from survivors and the dead, identify hazardous materials containers, determine if the container contents are radioactive, biohazardous, or explosive (by reading the labels), generate a detailed map of the disaster area, photograph the area, and return safely back to base...

    "...Weapons: 2 concussion missile launchers. Heavily armored for explosives deployment deep within the mines. Threat Level: High"


  • Here's a high speed mirror for the low quality file...
    http://a516.g.akamai.net/7/516/1/f15ee829e2faf2/ pdv.cs.tu-berlin.de/MARVIN/pressevideoELQ. mpg

    Be sure to remove the slashdot added spacing between the dot and mpg
  • Great gadget. Now attach some small automatic guns in it, wire the "alive person"-detector to the gun, and drop 10,000 of those in an appropriate country. After a chopper is out of ammo, it can choose to chop one final head.

    Are you sure the heli^H^Hadchopper wasn't financed by military?

  • "The robots' mission is to fly into a disaster area complete with fire, water and smoke hazards,"
    Like a battlefield?

    "to locate and avoid threats to itself, to find bodies, distinguish from survivors and the dead,"
    So it can save ammunition?

    "identify hazardous materials containers, determine if the container contents are radioactive, biohazardous, or explosive (by reading the labels),"
    So it can identify vehicles which look like large metal containers, and to IFF by reading their markings?

    "generate a detailed map of the disaster area, photograph the area, and return safely back to base."

    Somebody wants this, and it isn't the Boy Scouts.

  • Yeah, I think we should send you in instead, you're much more level headed.
  • really! I have tried several times.... we neeed MIRRORS!
  • It's going to do all of those things, eh?

    No, it did them. Which idiot moderated the above post `insightful'? He didn't even read the slashdot banner, let alone the story.

  • Seems that here in the states we are in need of robot that knows everything there is to know about "chads" and voter intent!
  • What if the person is unconcious? Is that a dead person or an alive person? What if they're alive, but not breathing? Could it even tell if they were breathing? Could I fool the machine into thinking I was dead?

    Well, think to yourself how you would determine if someone is still alive. Let's see: heartbeat, and body temperature are both great indicators. Are you trying to say a robot could not determine either of those?

    "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
  • Is the custom control software open source? I'd be real interested in exactly how they did this...
  • We can send a swarm of these into a building armed with tear gas to take out the humans, then they could logon to computers within the building and steal some trade secrets!

    Wouldn't that make a great movie?


    ---
  • um not to be picky or anything but your response had nothing to do with the original post.

    Why does it matter where the computing happens? M-w.com defines robot as:

    1 a : a machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (as walking or talking) of a human being; also : a similar but fictional machine whose lack of capacity for human emotions is often emphasized b : an efficient insensitive person who functions automatically
    2 : a device that automatically performs complicated often repetitive tasks
    3 : a mechanism guided by automatic controls
    Seems to meet both 2 and 3. Regardlessly the point of the contest is to prove new technology. In five years all the tech they used will be at least half the size and weight and you'll be able to mount it anywhere.
  • Well the low tech route seems to work pretty good. Put enough explosives into a small boat and you can take out a n billion dollar US destroyer. Seems to contrast with the US's high-tech terrorism (cruise missles to destroy targets "linked" to Bin Laden anyone?). Use this once and you'll get a suicide bomber at a Presidential function. To para-phrase William Gibson said if they go high tech you go low tech.
  • Yes, definitely the first thing I thought about when I read this was flying insect like killer robots. I need to start building my army of defensive killer spider-robots.

    Speaking about potentially lethal technology another not-talked-a-lot-about threat are electromagnetic pulse weapons. They are suspected to have been used already in Russia in bank robberies. I once saw a Primetime Live special about a guy who builds these from regular components expressly for the purpose to see how easy it is to build! He tests them near Groom lake/Area 51 and contracts for the Military. Diane Sawyer watched him aim one of the devices he built at a running car and shoot it - the engine died immediately.

  • This AC beat me to it. I'm on an ethernet college campus connection and my 90 MB download is going nowhere fast. /., couldn't you at least advertise a link to screen shots?
  • Actually, if you researched this, he aimed the device at a running car....and the engine ran roughly.

    Oooooo. Scary!

    I think they even had the hood up.

    Later,
    Erik Z
  • ...can be pretty darn spectactular. Or so I've heard. I've seen (and been responsible for) my fair share of crashes, and they can be pretty impressive on their own. The momentum in a 4ft diameter set of wooden rotor blades revolving at 2000rpm is quite serious. And unlike those boring Battlebots that are all steel, industrial strength and semi-indestructible, stuff that's designed to fly has to be light and therefore not too strong. A Heli-Battlebot battle would be short but impressive!
  • Ya, that'd be hillarious.

    Tragic fire! 3 deaths, 2 seriously injured
    A new state of the art ariel search and rescue robot was inspecting a burning building when its mission when terribly wrong. Eye witnesses say the flying machine broke open a 4th storey window and the fire which was raging on that floor received a ton of oxygen for fuel & launched the spinning bladed death machine into the rubber necking crowd. No one was injured in the fire but 3 people are dead and 2 from the spinning metal. Sources Linux and Slashdot are to blame.
    News at 11.

    --Clay

  • That's a funny notion. Why is RF so inferior to wires for moving information around? To me, robots are autonomous devices designed to perform certain tasks. Defining whether something is or is not a robot by where it keeps its brain seems to me to be about as logical as making technology workers drive to an "office" to do their "jobs".

    (that's to say, it's silly.)
  • I like to think this contraption would be a bit more friendly. Perhaps they can make mechaincal birds to shit on your head as your walking into work.
  • Oooooooo.... You've made me verrry ANGRY,VERRRRY ANGRY INDEED! I will have to nuke you now, miserable earth creature...

    With apologies to Mel Blanc.

  • and they are smart enough and allready have the resources to have done this type of thing allready. But of course you didn't "need to know"
    -^_^-
  • Well, while there are certainly military applications of this technology, there are also genuine humanitarian ones - such as the claimed fire disaster area survey. Each year many firefighters lose their lives, particularly trying to combat forest fires and trying to rescue people - or whole towns - from such areas.

    Some people have suggested other flight platforms, particularly from Moller [moller.com], but while the Aerobot looks nice it is somewhat expensive, and the Skycar looks unsuited to perform an tasks for which the system was intended. What is really important, though is the control electronics, vision system, etc.

    The German system seems to do a nice job with this (note also that Germans, at Mercedes-Benz, are the farthest along - at least in public - on autonomous robot land vehicles). What would be an interesting next challenge would be to try to scale-up from small helicopters to, say, a full-blown bell with stretcher pods and have the system be able to perform rescues of humans whom can be determined to still be mobile enough to get themselves onto the craft.

    Regarding detecting the difference between dead humans, unconscious humans, and alive but not breathing humans - first of all, those are distinctions that are hard for humans to make from a helicopter, so it's an awkward comparison. Furthermore, using infrared technology, the system would be better at detecting humans who died long enough ago that they were starting to get cold from others - something a human can not do while airborne.
    If you want to distinguish the unconscious, dead, and almost-dead you need to send in a land-based robot with some medical technology for making the distinction (but how do you TEST that system?)
    Right now, I think humans will be used for this.

    Also interesting would be to test the system for ability to deliver payloads (yeah, it could be bombs, but it would be interesting to test its accuracy in dropping medical supplies to those in a disaster area who are still mobile enough to use them...)

  • On the flip side, you know that the military is going to be thinking about using robots to PLACE humans in danger - then you have to come up with robots that PROTECT humans from that danger, and so on and so on.

    When the robots get smart enough, they'll go: "Why the hell are we protecting THESE wimps?".
  • If you read the rules of the competition you'll find that they address this issue directly.

    The reason they allow a ground-station to be used for processing is because they consider it to be much more of an economic hurdle than a technical one. The idea being, if you can build an "affordable" ground station that does real-time processing for the robot, with a little more $$ you can put the processing on-board -- it's not a technology issue.

    Bear in mind that with MARVIN there was an huge amount of computing power on-board the helicopter. It would be silly do the critical processing (i.e., flight dynamics) anywhere but on-board. Put it this way -- if the robot lost the radio link to the groundstation it wouldn't crash, it would simply stop receiving way-point data and go into fail-safe mode. If it didn't recover radio contact it would abort the mission and return to base.
  • You are full of sh*t (at best).

    This is the first year that the HAMMER facility was used as the disaster area and none of the teams had any prior knowledge of the location of anything on the field.

  • I was at Georgia Tech back around 1990 and knew someone who worked on their helicopter. At the time they were still trying to solve the flight stability problems. I believe they were working on a gyro system that could hold the machine in a level hover. That was the big challenge then. Of course, that was when I had EE profs tell me that they doubted CPUs could run much over 40 MHz because of all the cross-talk and RF interference.

    I saw this contest about 2 or 3 years ago on some tv show. Some high school kids almost made it. If I remember correctly, they had a blimp and they managed to pick up a disk but couldn't get the mechanism to drop it. (Actually, I think the high school kids didn't have to be autonomous).

    Sigh. If only there were money in robotics.

  • If the robot was meant to lie down in the mud, it would not have been given wings and rotors.
  • Well, when the fire broke out at the mannequin warehouse there were all these warm bodies scattered around...
  • Well man was not designed to walk on two legs but we seem to manage OK.

  • Sign. If only there were money in robotics.

    There will be. Just wait a couple more years.

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • > "...Weapons: 2 concussion missile launchers.
    > Heavily armored for explosives deployment deep
    > within the mines. Threat Level: High"

    Am i the only one who got the descent reference? Jeez, it hasn't been out for that many years!
    ---GEEK CODE---
    Ver: 3.12
    GCS/S d- s++: a-- C++++ UBCL+++ P+ L++
    W+++ PS+ Y+ R+ b+++ h+(++) r++ y+
  • Ace. Never thought I'd see a real one, all I've seen are theoretical papers on search and rescue AI agents.

    Now all they've got to do is to get a group of marvins to flock, communicate and co-operate in there environments. Now that I'd like to see :)


    ~matt~
    0
    o
    .
    ><>
  • I think the battery weight would be a problem, as far as i know 2 stroke is used for its horsepower to fuel+engine weight ratio

    It is. But have you ever tried to tune one of those little sub-1-cubic inch two strokes? It's not easy. They also run on nitromethane, which is highly volatile, which is probably not what you want to introduce into a burning building.

"Ada is PL/I trying to be Smalltalk. -- Codoso diBlini

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