The Astounding Athleticism of Quadcopters

Check out this TED Talk by Raffaello D’Andrea if you need another reason to think electric vehicles are cool. D’Andrea and his team have programmed quadcopters to perform amazing feats inside a zone where they use external camera feedback to locate themselves similar to GPS. Quadcopters are agile because they are inherently unstable. There are a bare minimum number of motors and propellers to influence the four degrees of freedom: roll, pitch, yaw and acceleration. A high resolution of control is afforded by the fact that electric motors are essentially perfect digital actuators fast enough to keep up with processors. The controller supplies a current to the motor which results in a precise amount of torque output almost instantaneously. That’s what makes these quadcopter tricks possible just like digital control over pulse width modulation (blinking really fast) and color in LED’s has ushered in a new era of 3D Projection Light Shows. Watch the video to see mind blowing acrobatics like holding a reverse pendulum, triple flips, gesture control, adapting to broken propellers and teams of quadcopters tethered together with a ball catching and throwing device dubiously named the Skynet:

If the power of mechatronic control algorithms can do that with quadcopters, think of what we can do with electric cars. Instead of four propellers on a quadcopter, picture the controllers managing four electric motors driving the wheels of a car. We can now hook a processor up to simultaneously read wheel slippage, accelerations in all directions, and yaw thousands of times a second. It can then apply both positive and negative torque to each individual wheel to make the chassis performance match the driver’s input in a huge array of conditions. Give that same processor access to active aerodynamic flaps or ground effect fans and we may be entering a new era of racing technology with electric cars. This is the kind of innovation that made the different propulsion modes on the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive so mind blowing to Chris Harris when he got to drive it. The SLS E-Drive has individual drive motors for each wheel and may be the first real performance electric car to take advantage of these mechatronic control algorithms to manipulate chassis dynamics.

If you find any of this at all interesting, then you owe it to yourself to check out the DIY Drones open-source community and start tinkering!

Source: TED Talks on YouTube