Tuesday, September 28, 2010

EPFL develops Linux-based swarming micro air vehicles

The good people at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (or EPFL) in Switzerland have been very busy lately, as this video demonstrates.

Not only have they put together a scalable system that will let any flying robot perch in a tree or similar structure, but now they've gone and developed a platform for swarming air vehicles (with Linux, nonetheless).

Said to be the largest network of its kind, the ten SMAVNET swarm members control their own altitude, airspeed, and turn rate based on input from the onboard gyroscope and pressure sensors. The goal is to develop low cost devices that can be deployed in disaster areas to creat ad hoc communications networks, although we can't help but think this would make the best Christmas present ever.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Future farms to be run by robots

Robots from Mechanisation Automation Robotics Remote Sensing (MARRS) technologies could one day run automated farms in Australia, a futuristic researcher from the University of Queensland says.

Dr Adam Postula says technologies can be used to control unmanned aircraft or unmanned tractors, using detection systems capable of observing environments using visual, infra-red or laser light wavelengths.

The emerging technologies can also help farmers by detecting and communicating in real-time variable environmental, field, and crop parameters such as moisture content, temperature and humidity.

Dr Postula and a colleague will speak on the role of smart machines in the future of Australian farming at an industry event in Marburg, west of Brisbane, on Wednesday.

The workshop will focus on opportunities available to Australian farmers through the introduction of robots and smart machines into their operations.

The remote-controlled farm could become a reality, just as mines are becoming more automated, he said.

"That's definitely possible. Look what happens with farms now - how many people we've employed on farms before and how many we have now," Dr Postula said.

"I've seen a mine in Sweden where there were no people underground, everything was controlled from above ground."

The future of farming is largely about precision, Dr Postula told AAP on Monday.

"It's not only pursued in space - where you put your plants in particular locations - but also you know almost everything about your soil, about moisture, stuff that really matters for growing," he said.

"In order to know that you have to have sensors that are close to the plant."

That means the sensors must be cheap, he said.

Dr Postula said any four-wheel drive vehicle can be made autonomous, and unmanned aircraft will be able to scan and estimate the size of crops and the maturity of fruit, or determine the location of cattle.

"We expect that walking, moving, flying robots will be commonplace on Australian farms in the future," Dr Postula said.