Sihao Sun, Giovanni Cioffi, Coen de Visser, and Davide Scaramuzza University of Zurich Switzerland

Winner of an HP Workstation

Safety is critical for autonomous drones. For drones with four propellers — also known as quadcopters — the failure of one motor is a big problem. With only three rotors working, the drone loses stability and inevitably crashes unless an emergency control strategy sets in. Especially in GPS-denied environments, a quadrotor with loss of one motor will fast yaw spin, causing significant position drift, crashing the drone and potentially harming people on the ground.

The solution is a vision-based control algorithm that saves the quadrotor after the complete loss of a single motor. Information from onboard cameras can be used to stabilize the drone and keep it flying autonomously after one rotor suddenly gives out.

When one rotor fails, the drone begins to spin on itself like a ballerina. This high-speed rotational motion causes standard controllers to fail unless the drone has access to very accurate position measurements. In other words, once it starts spinning, the drone is no longer able to estimate its position in space and eventually crashes.

One way to solve this problem is to provide the drone with a reference position through GPS. But there are many places where GPS signals are unavailable. The team solved this issue without relying on GPS, instead using visual information from different types of onboard cameras. They equipped the quadcopters with two types of cameras: standard ones, which record images several times per second at a fixed rate, and event cameras, which are based on independent pixels that are only activated when they detect a change in the light that reaches them.

The algorithms combine information from the two sensors and use it to track the quadrotor’s position relative to its surroundings. This enables the onboard computer to control the drone as it flies and spins with only three rotors.

For more information, visit here .


Learning Extreme Flight

Elia Kaufmann and Antonio Loquercio, University of Zurich, Switzerland
The quadcopter can perform acrobatic maneuvers like this one.

This method safely trains agile flight controllers in simulation and deploys them with no fine-tuning on physical quadcopters while only using onboard sensing and computation. The quadcopter can perform acrobatic maneuvers in the real world with unprecedented agility while only relying on onboard sensing and computation.

For more information, visit here .

D3 — Control and Deorbit Spacecraft Without Rockets

The D3
Riccardo Bevilacqua, Laurence H. Fineberg, Dave Guglielmo, Erik Long, Camilo A. Riano-Rios, and Nicolo Marcello Woodward, Orbotic Systems, Thousand Oaks, CA

A unique propellant-less robot can act as part of a spacecraft subsystem to control its orbit and attitude. The D3 modulates the spacecraft drag force while controlling orientation and orbital decay. It can be used to control a satellite constellation, deorbit a satellite, and target the reentry location.

For more information, visit here .

Bio-Inspired Multifunctional Ceramics for Aerospace Applications

The new ceramics tune mechanical responses.
Hamidreza Yazdani Sarvestani and Behnam Ashrafi, National Research Council Canada, Montreal

A fast, simplified, and industrially scalable fabrication technique is based on laser machining. Using the technique, a new class of advanced ceramics based on bio-inspired architectures has been designed to improve and tune the mechanical response in multi-impact conditions.

For more information, visit here .

Project PrObe

The prObe platform
Sebastian Bandycki, Piotr Kostek, Rafal Rotblum, and Janusz Dobrzanski, Haxtron, Poland

Project prObe designs and develops an aerial autonomous robotic platform for extreme and challenging environments. Capable of high-quality data acquisition activities, the probe features a propulsion system inside a spherical shape.

For more information, visit here .

See the rest of this year's winners: