Researchers at ETH Zürich’s Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control have successfully programmed three flying drones to build a rope bridge that can withstand the weight of a human adult.
Probably the most impressive aspect of this feat is the fact that the drones are flying autonomously, without the need for any assistance from the humans. While this is seen like a great advancement in the field of robotic aerial construction, I consider that it has a greater importance for rescue missions.
Of course, in the experiment run by the ETHZ researchers, the flying machines used the metal scaffolding at the ends of the bridge as a starting point. Other than that, the bridge is entirely made out of Dyneema rope, a tensile material proper for aerial construction, due to its low weight-to-strength ratio.
Just to put things into perspective, a 4mm diameter Dyneema rope weighs only 7 grams per meter, and can hold up to 1300 kg. Developed and showcased at the Flying Machine Arena in Zurich, the rope bridge was built using various knots, links and braids that would make even a sailor proud.
The only interaction between the drones and their programmers takes place in the beginning, when the latter introduce the location and the dimensions of the scaffolding into the system. Once they know this data, the quadrocopters autonomously weave the bridge and measure its tension using a motorized spool.
The researchers didn’t look for Guinea pigs after the drones finished weaving the bridge. In fact, they decided to test it on their own, but since they knew that the rope can support things much heaving than their bodies, I doubt they were scared at all. After all, the bridge was built at a safe height, not between two mountains. I’d like to think that if it ever comes to that, the flying drones would be capable of building a rope bridge in those conditions, as well. Obviously, such drones would be more adequate for rescuing teams, rather than for individual hikers who want to show off their latest toys.
Check out the following video to get a better idea of how the flying drones are building the rope bridge on their own.
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