Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?

MIT's Acrobatic Helicopter 208

YourHero writes: "MIT has a new toy, a remotely-piloted helicopter that's agile, stable, and in the current public mood, perfect for urban combat and reconnaisance and surveying disaster sites. Oh, and it's also good for aerial photography. It's so good that it even does 360-degree aileron rolls at the flick of a switch. The release gives some basics, videos and other juice are here. This cost $40k, excluding labor, because technically, student labor is "priceless" - so a nod to Kara Sprague, Alex Shterenberg, Ioannis Martinos, Bernard Mettler, and Vlad Gavrilets, who probably provided most of the labor. Stringfellow Hawk has not been reached for comment."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

MIT's Acrobatic Helicopter

Comments Filter:
  • [HUMOR]
    Though I wouldn't want one of these for an evac chopper.... Some things just can't be replaced.
  • Oh, and it's also good for aerial photography.

    How long until someone starts selling these with some stupid pop-up ad campagin, a la X-10 cams.
    (Works ... anywhere (bow chika bow wow!))
    • Oh you could try filming from outside someone's window....
      It's just that whole "sounds like a flying lawn mower is outside my window" bit that might let people know you're there.
    • That has already happened. R/C planes and helicopters are nothing new, and there's lots of people out there who take a plane kit and add a wireless camera and sell the whole thing.

      As for still photographs, people have been putting cameras into R/C planes for decades now ...

  • They should take this concept vehicle and do a demo for the DOD. The military has been experimenting for a good while on unmanned spy vehicles (some really far out stuff, if anyone saw the TLC show on it) and a vehicle like this that is so lightweight and agile as well as being able to take nifty pictures would be a real bonus to them.
    • It would probably suffer the usual consquences of "not invented here" syndrom. Plus you practicaly need to get a senator to sponsor you for the required bugetary pork to get funding. Ted Kennedy is not about to be a proponent of spending on military reaserch, even if it is in his home state.


    • Uhmm.. did you not notice that DoD funded this little doodad? Naturally the military is all over this like white on rice. Hollywood is another natural application, (let's see, who has deep pockets and likes dramatic film footage?)

      But what else?

      Unmanned traffic enforcement choppers a la those annoying photo radar [] rigs parked on the roadside? With a cop at the "wheel" does this get around the arguments facing the purely automated variety?

      Most fun application: Obstacle course racing. Smack one up and sure it was several grand but substantially more exciting than Robotica. []
  • Awww (Score:4, Funny)

    by NiftyNews ( 537829 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @03:47PM (#2957380) Homepage
    Yet despite all of the physics and scientific perfection...

    ...there is still no Helicopter Ejection Seat ;)
    • Re:Awww (Score:5, Interesting)

      by kin_korn_karn ( 466864 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @03:50PM (#2957402) Homepage
      not so. the Russian Ka-50 has an ejection seat - pull the handle and the rotor blades are blown off by an explosive; when they're clear the seat fires. I've heard rumors that the Comanche will have a similar feature, but there are always rumors about that kind of thing.

      I don't have a link, sorry.

      Is my Karma up to 50 yet? it's a slow day at work..
      • if you watch golden eye (iirc) they show that in action... (of course the helicopter wasn't in the air at the time, but same principle
      • (Old US Army Aviator speaking here)

        Every effort at creating an ejection system for US rotary wing aircraft has been met with irristable resistance by the Aviators.

        One methid, firing the seat through the floor. That is fine if you are an airforce guy at FL 2 zillion, but for us the ground is about 10 to 50 feet below the aircraft when we are most likely to need an ejection seat.

        Second, not many of us like having explosives strapped around the rotor head at any time.

        Third, most of us are not all that confidant that the firing sequence would work every time, i.e., not trusting the explosives in the head to blow early enough for the blades to clear the path of the seat flying up through the plane of the rotor disk.

        One glairing item from this story:

        HELICOPTERS HAVE NO AILERONS! They might mean a "snap roll" or a 360 degree z axis roll, but there are no ailerons on a helicopter.

        This is nothing new anyway, any fully articulated rotor system OR rigid rotor system, with a powertrain posessing enough power, can safely do rolls, loops, etc. Don't try this at homw with your UH-1 or OH-58/Jetranger or Longranger, they have semi-rigid rotor systems that will break if you try to maneuver at less than .5G

          I noticed that as well, odd they have it on the main site page too. Helicopters move the blade angles to achieve the same result. In case anyone is wondering Aileron 's are the little flaps* on the wing that move up or down to tilt the plane to make it bank or roll.

          *They are not the FLAPS mind you, these are only used to provide more lift to the aircraft at slower speads.
        • Had you read the article, you would know that this helicopter can execute such rolls autonomously, without constant control inputs from the pilot. Essentially, it's a full-up autonomous fly-by-wire model helicopter. Not a trivial achievement.
        • "This is nothing new anyway, any fully articulated rotor system OR rigid rotor system, with a powertrain posessing enough power, can safely do rolls, loops, etc. Don't try this at homw with your UH-1 or OH-58/Jetranger or Longranger, they have semi-rigid rotor systems that will break if you try to maneuver at less than .5G"

          Somewhere out there is footage of a CH-53 doing a longitudinal roll. I don't remember what TV show I saw it in, but I cringed. Things like that simply weren't meant to be.

    • Actually.... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DG ( 989 )
      I don't know if it has ever been done on a helicopter per sae, but there have been ejection seats that went out the _bottom_ of the aircraft.

      I think the F102 (or one of the other supersonic, large-single-vertical-fin fighters) had one of these.

      Just don't pull the handle during taxi. :)

      • ejection seats that went out the _bottom_ of the aircraft...Just don't pull the handle during taxi. :)

        I think there were bombers with out-the-bottom ejection. Not sure how well it worked. OTOH, the F111, which has (had?) a tall single vertical fin, ejects the whole cockpit upward on rockets. They are strong enough that you not only clear the tail fin, but you can eject on the runway and get high enough for the chute to open and land you gently. However, in at least one case the aircrew yanked the eject lever when the airplane was flying inverted at under 200 feet. Seemed a shame to have to dig them out of that deep hole just so they could be buried again...
        • Re:Actually.... (Score:2, Interesting)

          by jonerik ( 308303 )
          OTOH, the F111, which has (had?)

          Both, actually. The -111 is no longer in service with the USAF, but the Aussies still operate it.

          They are strong enough that you not only clear the tail fin, but you can eject on the runway and get high enough for the chute to open and land you gently.

          Alternatively, if you ejected over water the cockpit capsule would float and double as a survival pod. The B-1A had a similar ejection cockpit capsule - which apparently worked quite well when one of the four prototypes went down - but this feature was dispensed with for the B-1B.
          • Re:Actually.... (Score:2, Informative)

            by markmoss ( 301064 )
            The 111 ejection capsule worked quite well on paper. The trouble is, the normal mission profile for 111's is mach 0.9+ at 200 feet, so that's how they ran training flights. If anything went wrong, there usually wasn't enough time between "oh shit" and going splat to reach for the ejection lever. Not to mention that one crew that either didn't notice the plane had flipped over, or it flipped over while they were pulling the lever.

            In the one case I heard of where the crew did eject "within envelope" (that is, plane rightside up and before impact), the capsule did protect the crew quite well. This was over Scotland; they just walked over to the road, got a ride to the pub, and called the base...

            At Cannon AFB where I spent 6 years, they lost a plane every year or two. The only time the crew got out was when the plane caught fire on the runway, and they didn't eject (the system didn't work under 60 knots), but rather popped the canopy and jumped over the side. I think that was a 10-12 foot drop, but they came out of it running, because the JP4 burned hot enough to ignite aluminum.

            You know the AF's sequence for junking an airplane? (1) Buy all new test stations for the avionics, at a cost of at least $100 million. (2) Junk the aircraft the new test stations support -- in the case of Cannon, one year after they arrived. (3) Next year, fight the war Cannon had been trained for (Iraq), using other, more expensive planes to penetrate the defenses. 8-(
        • I think there were bombers with out-the-bottom ejection.

          The B-52 has two seats that eject downward; everyone else goes out the top.

      • I think the F-104 had an ejection seat that went out the bottom of the aircraft. In any case, I remember reading in The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe about a test pilot who was killed by such an ejection seat because he had to bail out on takeoff. IIRC, he tried to turn the airplane upside down so the seat wouldn't pile-drive him into the ground, but ended up going out sideways and the chute didn't deploy... :-(

        Despite having gone skydiving once when I was younger and more brash, I still think there's something unnatural about expecting a thin piece of fabric to keep you from becoming a red splotch on the ground...
      • by Anonymous Coward

        The B47 Strategic Bomber ejected the Bombardier downward...if the Bombardier ejected before the plane was off the ground, his body and chute would foul the nose wheel, thus killing everyone else on the plane...not really great design, nicht wahr?
    • You could always just do what Van Halen says and JUMP!
    • Helicopter Ejection Seat

      Ow. Barber, a little off the top, I would think.
  • ... and in the current public mood, perfect for urban combat ...

    you people are scary.
  • by gatekeep ( 122108 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @03:47PM (#2957385)
    Now I can easily move my storm troopers and GI Joe's into battle without risk of a human pilot falling into harms way!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    And if they think that this thing will make it cheaper, they are in for a shock. Budgets on movies that can afford aerial shots are large enough that hiring professional cameramen and helicopter pilots is not an issue.

    The main usage of these is air shows. Even for the military, there isn't much need for a maneuverable drone. What they need are fast drones that are very expendable. These things are way too complicated to be useful in the near term.
    • They expect that military-capable versions will be producible for about 1/4 the price tag of the Predator. Thus, these are arguably far more expendable, as opposed to "way more complicated".

      Further, while professional cameramen and helo pilots may be affordable to big movies, they simply aren't capable of some of the maneuvers these little things can make. They're not a cheaper replacement for a professional cameraman and pilot, they're a better replacement (which may be cheaper too).
    • by JohnGalt42 ( 472998 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @03:56PM (#2957446) Homepage
      And if they think that this thing will make it cheaper, they are in for a shock. Budgets on movies that can afford aerial shots are large enough that hiring professional cameramen and helicopter pilots is not an issue.

      Dude, that doesn't make any sense. Just because the studios can use a cheap drone helicopter doesn't mean they would have to give up professional cameramen. Furthermore, it brings all kinds of different cinematography to the table, without the need for CG.

      Even for the military, there isn't much need for a maneuverable drone.

      What are you basing this statement on? I would say it's very clear the military definitely has a need for small, cheap, maneuverable drones. Between combat and safety, I can think of a myriad of applications for these.

    • by SnapShot ( 171582 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @04:17PM (#2957590)
      Even for the military, there isn't much need for a maneuverable drone.

      The Comanche costs [] (will cost? may cost? link is from 1997) $26M each. Even at the current cost that means approximately 650 of these helecopters for the cost of one Comanche. They are (were?) taking about buying 1600 Comanche helicopters. That works out to 1,040,000 drones for the same cost.

      Imagine you add a saturday night special to the helicopter and you send a million of these things sweeping into Iraq. Now the only problem is finding enough trained [] pilots.

      Wait. Scratch that thought. I just had a vision of a million, unsupervised 14 year old boys in control of armed, remote control helicopters.

      • by colmore ( 56499 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @04:25PM (#2957644) Journal
        "Wait. Scratch that thought. I just had a vision of a million, unsupervised 14 year old boys in control of armed, remote control helicopters."

        Did you ever watch the Robin Williams movie _Toys_? They were basically doing this. The movie, while not being *good* per se, is a pretty interesting watch, if just for the visuals.
      • And I had a Vision of a million burning RC/HC as unsupervised 14 year olds shoot at each other! ;)
        I would wager that maintain on a million of thes would make up for any cost savings. remember , they would need to be prepared to fly at the same time, and shipped, and the mantainers wuld need to eat, and sleep, etc, etc.... conservitaive estimate you would need about 500000 to 750000 total personal to do this. Unless you can plan for it 5 years in advance(as opposed to 3 months), then you would probably only involve 50,000 people(but the same man hours)
    • There are a lot of places in filmmaking where remote-control helicopters are useful.

      For instance, all the aerial shots in 'Walking with Beasts' were done with a RC Helicopter - it is substantially cheaper, especially if you need film somewhere remote.
  • ummm... (Score:4, Funny)

    by ryusen ( 245792 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @03:48PM (#2957394) Homepage
    Stringfellow Hawk has not been reached for comment
    untill this thing can go mach one and lift ernest borgnine, i really doubt stringfellow hawk will need to comment...
    • Now how the hell was this offtopic if Stringfellow Hawk was mentioned in the headlines?

      To all you bitch ass moderators today: did someone piss in your cornflakes this morning?

      NOTE: if you ARE NOT a bitch ass, and ARE a moderator, then this message wasnt for you ;)

      Just laugh a little. []
  • > in the current public mood, perfect for urban > combat and reconnaisance and surveying disaster > sites. Oh, and it's also good for aerial > photography. So it's also good for surveying targets, dropping chemical/biological/nerve agents, and photographing the results. Maybe /bin/laden guys will even hack it to email al jazeera with exclusive footage.
  • by nesneros ( 214571 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @03:53PM (#2957425) Homepage
    This quote from the article is probably the most important piece of information. The last decade has seen so massive advancements in our understanding of nonlinear dynamics and how they can be applied to engineered systems. Problems with traditionaly engineering approaches are that we often have to assume nonlinear systems (i.e. everything in the real world) are "linear about a point". While this is fine for some problems, like automobile suspension systems, it's just not sufficient for tasks like control complex airflow, predicting weather patterns, or driving robots across uneven systems.

    As nonlinear analysis techniques become more and more prominent in engineering design, we'll start to see more and more of these technologies which can accomplish extremely difficult technical challenges.
  • Much of the 12,000 lines of code necessary to fly the helicopter were written by Kara Sprague (M.Eng. 2002 in electrical engineering and computer science) and Alex Shterenberg (M.Eng. 2000 in electrical engineering and computer science).

    Now that would be a cool thing to hack!
  • by RevRigel ( 90335 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @03:56PM (#2957444)
    Check out the IARC [] competition website. There are teams' webpages linked from there, too. My school (UT Austin []) is planning its first ever entry for the 2002 competition.
    The task this year is to fly 3 kilometers along 4 waypoints, identify a building and an open entrance on the building, deploy a subvehicle (not necessary, but practically necessary) through the entrance, and have the subvehicle return reconaissance to the judges 3km away.
    Many people opt to use R/C helicopters and modify them (we are using an XCell .60 Gas Graphite by Miniature Aircraft USA []).
  • by LordNimon ( 85072 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @03:59PM (#2957461)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I used to fly radio controlled helicopters, they can be had for alot less around $1000-$1500 with full aerobatic capability check out html
    the Raptor 30 is an excellent model to start with
  • Sandwiches and pizza slices, delivered to your window (just watch out for the blades).
  • And for all you open source nuts who want to tie in this story to the rest of /.
    Autopilot.SourceForge.Net []
  • by Pyrosz ( 469177 ) < minus poet> on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @04:06PM (#2957504) Homepage
    As stated above, its been done and for a LOT cheaper. Yes I read the information and its a little different, but not really... Most modern advanced radio controlled heli's (just like this one) are simple enough to fly with some practice and are all computer controlled already. I can make my helicopter do a loop and a roll without me doing anything but flicking a switch. Its very simple with the computer radios and some simple commands input into the radio. Yes, its stable and I have used my heli to take pictures too. Total cost to me so far ~$2500.
    • You're making it sound a lot easier than it really is. Learning to fly an RC helicopter is damn hard, in my experience.

      I practiced quite a bit using RealFlight, and I found it very helpful in getting the hang of controls and tuning my reflexes. Unfortunately I would still crash my real chopper from time to time, and I just got tired of fixing before I ever got good at it. Every crash costs *at least* $75 and one hour of repairs. That's if there's no tail rotor damage. I found it a very expensive and time-consuming hobby.

      I know that a lot of people will have the skill and patience for this sort of thing, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it to anyone with $2500 to burn.

      Oh... and flying inverted is hardly something that happens at just the flick of a switch. Get real, hotshot.
    • Yeah. Watch the video. If you can fly your heli, inverted, for as long as these MIT people did, I'll buy you another one.

      You will not be able to perform these maneuvers, I guaran-damn-tee you. Outside loop? Ten feet above the ground? I'll believe you can do it when I see it.
      • Are you refering to the clip titled "Manual aggressive maneuvers"? This is the only clip I could find that shows the helicopter doing anything remotely aerobatic.

        I'm still at the hovering backwards stage, but the guys I fly with put that stuff to shame. Inverted hovering, invertied auto-rotation, inside loops, outside loops, tornados, rolls and flips inches off of the ground. It's almost unbelievable what these guys can do. You should check out one of Curtis Youngblood's videos and them let me know who gets the new heli.
  • You know (Score:2, Informative)

    by CDR1313 ( 151522 )
    You can buy an X-cell 60 Chopper, build it, and fly it without the aid of MIT researchers for less than $2k., including aerobatics.
    I just thought I would add that bit of information since landing and takeoff of radio controller helicopters are arguably the most difficult thing to learn to do.
    Also, companies have produced camera/camcorder mounts for these types of helicopters too.
  • by dcavanaugh ( 248349 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @04:09PM (#2957534) Homepage
    Humor, not to be taken seriously

    Imagine this: The Pentagon offers to transport, arm, and fuel home-built drone aircraft to fly against Al Qaeda. Your aircraft must meet the following requirements:
    • On-board GPS
    • On-board video capability
    • Must be controlled via a soon-to-be-built wireless IP network in (let's say Somalia)
    • 500-pound payload
    From the comfort of your home, you can patrol your Pentagon-assigned territory, and engage targets as designated by the JSTARS targeting system.

    I figure the Pentagon can probably turn a profit by charging fees as they provide what is essentially the world's most realistic flight simulator. As an added bonus, they could sell the TV rights to the on-board video. Wouldn't it be fun to watch "The World's Most Terrified Terrorists"? Imagine what the MIT folks could build for this mission!

    I think the most ironic part of the whole idea is that it turns the tables on the bad guys. Under this scenario, their most terrfying time of day would be when school gets out in the US. "Oh no! Schools out! Everyone head for the caves!"

    What a neat application for embedded Linux.
    • c/GPS/GEForce/
      c/On-board video/21" Display/
      c/IP Network/Low-Ping Only/

      Wow, sounds like my free time already...
    • Al Queda could do the same thing to us from the comfort of an operator's La-Z-Boy.

      Careful what we wish for...
      • This is a joke, not to be taken seriously; none of this stuff even exists

        Anyone could build and use a GPS-guided weapon against us, but Al Qaeda has a supply of low-tech disposable martyrs that is just as effective, not to mention easier on their payroll department. As for their use of a remote-control system like the one I described, that would expose their command and control to all kinds of high-tech countermeasures. If nothing else worked, we could spam them to death.

        My suggestion was jokingly intended to even the playing field -- we match our disposable planes against their disposable people.

        If we can get Al Qaeda to base their entire weapons program on "Microsoft Martyr XP", it will surely GPF or BSOD before anything dangerous happens! You ask for a creative weapon, I give you the prepaid M$ Enterprise Agreement. We send it via Fed Ex to Al Jazeera; they'll find a way to deliver it. If they somehow manage to make something that works, we hit them with the "ground zero" virus that sends their missiles back to

  • That little flippy was quick to land ;-)
  • by tramm ( 16077 ) <> on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @04:16PM (#2957581) Homepage
    We're building a GPLed helicopter autopilot [] and stabilization system []. It's built entirely with Free Software and all the designs are available under the GPL. There is a realtime sensor board [] that controls the servos and monitors the accelerometers [] and gyros. It also tracks engine stats [] and acts as an engine governor. The entire package fits on a standard model helicopter airframe [].

    Unlike the academic projects, you can download our code [] and contribute!

  • The link to MIT quite explicitly states, over and over, that this craft does aileron rolls. I'm not completely familiar with helicopter flight dynamics terminology, but it seems strange to me that a vehicle with no ailerons could do aileron rolls...

    Anyone able to shed some light on this? Creative terminology, or something more interesting?
  • Combat? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by europrobe ( 167359 ) <daniel AT perup DOT net> on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @04:22PM (#2957622) Homepage
    This thing seems way too small to fit some kind of weapon. For this to be useful in combat, it'd have to carry a machinegun or maybe a small rocket launcher. A machinegun with 1000 rounds would weigh, say, 15-20 kg, and the recoil would probably be too big for this chopper.

    The recoil of a rocket launcher, on the other hand, would be minimal. Problem is to aim the pod, since you can not adjust fire during firing in the same way - since you would carry only, say, 10 rockets. The aiming problem would mean you'd probably have to include hydraulics for tilting and rotating the pod, wich means more weight.

    'course, you could just pack the thing with 15 kgs of plastic explosive, fly it into a building full of your opponents of choice, and set it off.

    The Hellfire missile [] used on the Predator UAV [], for example, weighs 45 kgs. Obviously, this is too much for this litte chopper.

    I wonder how this extra weight affects flight performance. Does anyone have any more info on this?
    • I don't think they're talking about this being used directly as a combat platform, but more as being a reconaissance platform. At ten grand, this would be inexpensive enough to send a fleet of them out to keep tabs of any fleeing enemies in a firefight. Of course, your suggestion of a self-destructing vehicle would be useful as well - once you get to the area of troops you want to perform damage, just blow the chopper up and let the parts act as shrapnel.
      • The poster seems to imply actual combat, but when I read the article more carefully, you seem to be right. For reconaissance, this could be really useful, especially since it seems small and light enough to be carried by hand a short distance. This would enable a much easier tactical use closer to the actual fighting, where a soldier could use it to fly just a few metres to se what's around the corner of a building.

        I imagine these being smaller and lighter for military use, not larger and heavier as the article says.
    • I would expect the ~10kg or so chopper laden with 45kg of weaponry wouldn't be able to get off of the ground, let alone fly. :D
    • targeting (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mikeee ( 137160 )
      It couldn't carry much firepower, but it could probably manage a targeting laser to paint a target for a long range missle or even shell that had terminal guidance by laser...
    • It would have to drop bombs. anythig with "kick-back" would probably have little to zero accuracy.
      However it would be best used as a means to guide missiles to a destination its looking at.
      And it really wouldn't be that hard to do.
    • What would prevent the military from dispensing nerve gas or some other biological or chemical agent? It wouldn't take a very large container.

      More in line with treaties that ban the above, it could dispense an explosive vapor that it could light from a distance with an incindiary device (e.g. phosphorous) for concusive explosions, spray glue or release metal streamers to short out power transmission systems.

  • This cost $40k, excluding labor, because technically, student labor is "priceless"

    You mean free, as in beer?
  • by Schlemphfer ( 556732 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @04:31PM (#2957680) Homepage
    This looks like a great and low-cost way for radio stations to do away with sending reporters up in helicopters to cover traffic. Back in 1993 WNBC listeners throughout New York City were listening [] to one such broadcast and heard the copter crash, killing the reporter and pilot. Many other such crashes have occurred over the years. With luck, this MIT copter could make it obsolete to send traffic reporters in the air.
    • okay, I'm getting a little off-topic here, but traffic helicopters are obsolete already. Here in Philadelpha most if not all of the stations have given up on them (or use them just for special reports on things best covered from the air).

      Most traffic reports are coming from a service such as, who places cideo cameras and radar guns along the highways to measure speeds.
      The major benefit of this system is the newscasters can show the road conditions of several highways in rapid succession.

    • I'd never heard that story so did some searching. Actually the pilot lived:
      site 1 []
      site 2 []
  • Let's see them make it do a Hammerhead stall.

    Then, we arm it, and figure out how to put booster jet engines on it.

    THEN we call Stringfellow.
  • "Anyone can fly it. I can fly it. You can fly it," said Vlad Gavrilets, the aero-astro Ph.D. candidate primarily involved in the project
    Couldn't get any easier than that!!
  • I can see why these robo-copters might be useful for certain types of recon, such as in tight spaces or places where the camera must be stationary. I can't see that these would be generally superior to the fixed-wing reconnaisance drones in use now, however. They've solved one of the drawbacks of copters - the difficulty of piloting them, especially in spots where you don't have line of sight with the remote-controlled copter itself. They haven't solved one of the main drawbacks though - fuel efficiency. Copters, especially little remote ones, don't have nearly the range of a fixed-wing aircraft. I suppose the military could build larger ones that can carry more fuel than the mini copter made by MIT, but the problem is still the there. Copters just don't have the same range for a given amount of fuel.

    They're also probably a lot louder than existing drone planes.

    I could see how these might be useful for, say, scouting out forested areas below the forest cover, or even going inside (large) buildings, etc. But if you want to send one into Iraq from Saudi Arabia, that's not going to happen.
  • it could also give filmmakers a cheap, risk-free way to shoot aerial footage. Currently, says Gavrilets, "It costs $20,000 a day to rent a helicopter and a pilot for certain types of aerial shots."

    Grown ups in the commercial world already had this idea, and implemented it years ago: []
  • Incorrect term (Score:2, Informative)

    by NightStriker ( 2174 )
    It's so good that it even does 360-degree aileron rolls at the flick of a switch.

    According to [] an aileron is:

    "Either of two movable flaps on the wings of an airplane that can be used to control the plane's rolling and banking movements."

    Since a helicopter doesn't have ailerons, only a control rotor, this isn't, strictly speaking, an aileron roll; its more of a control rotor roll.

  • by irq ( 68200 )
    Every Saturday I go out to Palomar Flyers []'s Johnson Field and fly my Kalt 30 Baron r/c helicopter. I'm still a newbie, but there are always plenty of people doing things there beyond even what this MIT bird is capable of, and I put a wireless video camera on mine, and it was pretty easy, so... whats so special about this mit thing? :)
    • The robustness of the controlling computer to the natural vibration of the chopper is what sets it apart.

      The system was designed for *acrobatic flight*. It delivers on this goal by capturing flight data many times per second and integrating that into a flight dynamics model, which is in turn linked to the chopper's servo-control mechanisms. Right now, the only thing limiting its acrobatic flight capabilities is not the flight model, but simply programming the manoeuvres in. This last task is almost insignificant in terms of difficulty, when compared to the challenges of the vibration dampening system, systems integration, and flight dynamics model development.
  • The article compares this to a predator UAV [], and implies that if scaled up, it could replace the predator. But, basically, the $500k pricetag is a number pulled out of nowhere. The Navy is already working on an unmanned helicopter, the firescout [], and it would provide a much better idea of how much an unmanned helicopter would be costed. Just for fun, though, let's look at how far the xcell has to go to be more useful to the military... XCell .60 Pro Graphite 2K (top of line) [] vs predator UAV []:

    Predator: range 400 miles/40 hours, altitude 25,000 feet, cruise speed 70 knots.
    XL: Total weight 11 pounds. Total run time 5 minutes.

    Predator: Payload > 450 pounds. Accessories: helfire missles, high resolution optical and infrared zoom (19-560mm) cameras (I actually used the a Wescam in development, it was sweet!), synthetic aperture radar (resolution 1 foot) for all-weather surveillance, a laser designator and rangefinder, electronic support and countermeasures and a moving target indicator (MTI). Automated gunfire detection.
    XL: Total weight, ~11 pounds. Payload: A small video camera.

    Predator: UHF and VHF radio relay links, a C-band line-of-sight data link (range 150 NM) and UHF and Ku-band satellite data links.
    XL: A 49 MHz hobby RC link

    Predator: fixed-wing design, which is generally lower maintainence.
    XL: rotary wing, which generally has higher maintainence.

    I think that this could probably be turned into a tool for war, and that the automated flying (like what is built into the Predator) being developed for helicopters by this project would be useful to that end, but it's just one aspect of the total system... to accurately cost a production system, you'd have to have a much better idea of the entire system's design requirements.
  • and in the current public mood, perfect for urban combat

    How would these helicopters help in such situations? They could be used to douse protesters with pepper spray and tear gas directly from above -no need to send police into a crowd anymore! How to distinguish those pesky so-called "free-speech" protesters from window-smashing anarchists? Just equip the copters with face recognition software! Officers can put their time to better use photographing crowd members' faces to feed back into the system!

    Have an rowdy situation unfolding? Simply arm these copters with fletchers full of sleeping potion, and you can rest assured they'll be hauled off to the slam, where they belong!

    (In New York City, this past Saturday we saw one of the largest turnouts for a global trade-related protest in ... ever, perhaps. The main march had, by NYPD estimates, over 14,000 participants -CNN said "hundreds"... sheesh. I was there, it was thousands. In several situations, the NYPD broke up peaceful gatherings and rallies, clubbed participants, and took them off in ambulances and paddywagons. Check out the coverage on
  • by paranoidia ( 472028 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @06:41PM (#2958571)
    The main site is posted here []. But basicly CMU is also doing this, and has gotten very far. It can track a person running around a field with a life-vest. It can also lower some object into a person's hand. This might seem easly, but this is still all autonomous. One of the big projects this is for is the Coast Guard wants these to quickly find and possibly help people in the oceans. Teams of these things can scan the ocean for people while the choper with people are just loading up. Check out the videos on the site, very cool stuff.
  • > This cost $40k, excluding labor

    1. This cost figure can not accurately represent the costs of redeveloping the SW and control systems for a military / highly-robust system. The SW development methodologies for an academic proof of concept and a military project differ substantially. Basically, instead of 1 grad student producing thousands of lines of code, you would have a large team of programmers, checkers, double checkers, certifiers, testers, and systems engineers developing the system. This adds substantially to the cost of development. Professional developers (not hackers), please comment.

    2. AFAIK, the $40k cost did not include the cost of the inertial navigation system. These are very expensive, but neccesary to complement the GPS system used. I think, although I might have misforgotten, that the Draper Lab donated the one used in the test units.

"There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain