AUVSI 2013: More Than Just Drones

Aug. 28, 2013
Technology Editor Bill Wong checked out the drones, robots and other technology at this year's AUVSI 2013 conference.

AUVSI 2013 was in Washington D.C. this year and there were record crowds but it seems a little light to me. The very limited military attendee presence may have had something to do with that feeling. Sequestration has hit military trade shows hard.

It did seem to stop the vendors who were harking their wares and there was a lot of new and a lot of old at the show. For example, Liquid Robotics had their Wave Glider on display (see Waterborne Robots Stir Up Waves At AUVSI 2013). We saw the original last year (see Wave Glider Wave-Powered Marine Robot - AUVSI Unmanned Systems 2012) and I had written about their new model, the SV3 (see Supercomputer Robot Cluster Sails Into The Sunset), that can be part of a large floating computing cluster.

We saw a number of remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and autonomous robots in action (see AUVSI 2013 at video playlist) but most were on display at the booths where they had limited mobility. It is still not nice to have them flying around. One that was only a demo/prototype that would have been neat to see in action was the Bird’s Eye UAS (Fig. 1) from Bird Aerospace (see Exploding Drones And More At AUVSI 2013).

Figure 1. Bird Aerospace's Bird's Eye fits into a canister that is shot into the air where it explodes and the flying wing assembles itself in a second. The autonomous drone then flies away.

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The Bird's Eye is a single use UAV that is contained within a canister. The canister is launched and has small explosive charges that open the canister and eject the aircraft that self-assembles with the help of additional charges. The autonomous electric UAV then heads out on a predefined course. The recovered UAV needs to be sent back to the factory for repackaging.

Foam and carbon fibers were in lots of designs like UAVER's Swallow and Avian drones (see UAVER "Swallow" and "Avian" Carbon Fiber UAVs). Some bungie cords help launch the Swallow and a parachute is used for recovery.

Copters were getting bigger and badder with octorotors a common theme for heavy lifting (see AUVSI 2013 Copters Sport Lots Of Props). There were plenty of quadrotors especially smaller ones but more rotors means more lift and more stability. Some are already being used for shooting movies.

Allied Drones had configured one of their aircraft to carry a UGV (unmanned ground vehicle) so that the UGV could be dropped off in areas were they could not easier get to (Fig. 2). For example, the drone could drop the other robot on a roof, across a river or on top of a hill it might not be able to navigate.

Figure 2.Allied Drones had configured one of their octorotor UAVs to carry a UGV.

The drone (Fig. 3)has the mobility advantage but it has limited flight time. The UGV can easily sit still using little power to watch an area or to roll under or around obstacles for a close up view that the aircraft would be incapable of handling.

Figure 3.The top down view shows Allied Drones' UAV from an aircraft perspective.

There were plenty of ground-based robotics that were in action.

Synbotics had their robot platform (Fig. 4) being used by a number of organizations including DRS Technologies and Johns Hopkins (see Rolling Robots Interact With People At AUVSI 2013). Check out the AUVSI 2013 at for videos of the robot in action.

Figure 4. Synbotics UGV has independent wheels. It can circle in this position but it also indicates to nearby humans that it is in safe mode.

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One neat thing about the robot is the independent wheels. DRS Technologies is customizing it for military applications and follow-the-leader is one mode that was demoed. The robot is designed to operate in close proximity of people and flips its wheels to the circular mode to indicate that it is waiting for new instructions. It also prevents it from starting up quickly and running into someone.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins put HDT Global's latest 22-DOF hands and head on the robot. I got to shake its hand. Its designed for remote control by a person wearing a virtual world imaging helmet.

We saw quite a bit more but I did want to mention the interview I did with InTouch Health's Charlie Huiner. He was in Santa Barbara and not at the show. Instead, I was talking with iRobot's RP-VITA (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. InTouch Health is using iRobot's RP-VITA to bring a doctor's expertise to remote locations. It even has a built-in stethoscope.

The RP-VITA telepresence robot is like many we have looked at before with a large screen, built-in audio and video but this one has more. Open one side of the robot and there is a stethoscope so the remove physician can listen to the patience with the help of a person assisting the robot. The other side opens to a telephone handset. Why you might ask would one need a telephone when the robot has multimedia feedback? Consider when a nurse or doctor need to privately confer with the remote user.

There was a lot of talk about the FAA and drones. Drones will be flying in limited numbers although their airspace will be limited as well. There were even protesters in front of the show building.

AUVSI remains one of the neatest technology shows around. The robots are getting more capable and autonomous swarms are real, not just research projects. They are also getting closer to people and not just remote devices. Safety, cost and a host of other concerns still exist but robots are continuing to improve at a rapid rate.

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