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Biologically inspired perching for aerial robots




Zhang, Haijie, author
Zhao, Jianguo, advisor
Bradley, Thomas H., committee member
Pasricha, Sudeep, committee member
Guzik, Stephen, committee member

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Micro Aerial Vehicles (MAVs) are widely used for various civilian and military applications (e.g., surveillance, search, and monitoring, etc.); however, one critical problem they are facing is the limited airborne time (less than one hour) due to the low aerodynamic efficiency, low energy storage capability, and high energy consumption. To address this problem, mimicking biological flyers to perch onto objects (e.g., walls, power lines, or ceilings) will significantly extend MAVs' functioning time for surveillance or monitoring related tasks. Successful perching for aerial robots, however, is quite challenging as it requires a synergistic integration of mechanical and computational intelligence. Mechanical intelligence means mechanical mechanisms to passively damp out the impact between the robot and the perching object and robustly engage the robot to the perching objects. Computational intelligence means computation algorithms to estimate, plan, and control the robot's motion so that the robot can progressively reduce its speed and adjust its orientation to perch on the objects with a desired velocity and orientation. In this research, a framework for biologically inspired perching is investigated, focusing on both computational and mechanical intelligence. Computational intelligence includes vision-based state estimation and trajectory planning. Unlike traditional flight states such as position and velocity, we leverage a biologically inspired state called time-to-contact (TTC) that represents the remaining time to the perching object at the current flight velocity. A faster and more accurate estimation method based on consecutive images is proposed to estimate TTC. Then a trajectory is planned in TTC space to realize the faster perching while satisfying multiple flight and perching constraints, e.g., maximum velocity, maximum acceleration, and desired contact velocity. For mechanical intelligence, we design, develop, and analyze a novel compliant bistable gripper with two stable states. When the gripper is open, it can close passively by the contact force between the robot and the perching object, eliminating additional actuators or sensors. We also analyze the bistability of the gripper to guide and optimize the design of the gripper. At the end, a customized MAV platform of size 250 mm is designed to combine computational and mechanical intelligence. A Raspberry Pi is used as the onboard computer to do vision-based state estimation and control. Besides, a larger gripper is designed to make the MAV perch on a horizontal rod. Perching experiments using the designed trajectories perform well at activating the bistable gripper to perch while avoiding large impact force which may damage the gripper and the MAV. The research will enable robust perching of MAVs so that they can maintain a desired observation or resting position for long-duration inspection, surveillance, search, and rescue.


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