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Quadcoptors flying in formation using motion capture
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Quadcoptors flying in formation using motion capture

The Nonami Group at Chiba University is developing drone robots for information gathering, and the group has demonstrated four multi-rotor helicopters, flying in formation using image processing.

"The cameras capture the markers, and send all the images to the host computer, which calculates the position and attitude. Positioning can be done to within 1 mm. The control frequency is 100 Hz, so position and attitude are calculated every 10 ms, to prevent collisions."

Each helicopter weighs 300g, and can carry a payload of 500 g. Currently, each has a 250 g battery, so they can carry cameras and other devices totaling 250 g.

"The current demonstration is an attraction, so it might be even more fun to have ten of these flying. Also, when they're actually gathering information outdoors, the more there are, the faster they can obtain information. So we're thinking of using formation flight with a commercial version."

"It's very difficult to create mathematical models for this type of drone. But we do quite rigorous modeling, with strong nonlinearity; that makes the models complicated. But we've designed a controller to match that complexity, and we're verifying that the drones can actually fly in a stable manner."

"On July 5, we took part in an emergency drill by the Police Department. The scenario was an explosion at a chemical plant. Our mission was to find out if people were on site, and return. We succeeded very well, and the Police Department said they'd like to introduce this system. It could also have lots of other applications. For example, it could be used to monitor volcanic eruptions, or to inspect power lines."

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