Robotic Helicopter May Offer New Option For Public Safety Robot Books

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NASA Press Release

NASA and the U.S. Army have developed a remote-controlled helicopter that could be used for a wide range of tasks, including precision crop spraying, border patrol, hazardous spill inspection, fire surveillance, crowd security and emergency medical delivery.

Called the Free Flight Rotorcraft Research Vehicle (FFRRV), the robotic helicopter can carry a movie camera, a still camera, video downlinks, night vision or infrared cameras. Artificial intelligence techniques keep the chopper stable in flight and allow it to be remotely controlled from the ground.

"An autonomous helicopter could help perform all of these jobs better, more quickly, at a lower cost while not exposing any humans to potentially dangerous situations," said Todd Hodges, an Army employee at NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, and manager of the helicopter project.

The helicopter contains adaptive electronic flight control systems that incorporate artificial intelligence techniques, small light-weight sophisticated sensors, and advanced telepresence-telerobotics systems.

According to Hodges, the robotic helicopters also could be used for pollution monitoring, law enforcement, bridge and building construction inspection, crop and forest monitoring, mine clearing and other public security tasks.

"It could even be used as a 'carrier pigeon' shuttling supplies and so forth between military locations," said Hodges. "The potential applications are pretty wide-ranging."

The project initially set out to develop a tool for testing flight dynamics. Hodges and his team were tasked to develop a suitcase-portable version, including a small helicopter and a ground control station comprised of a moving map and video monitor that could be set up in 20 minutes.

The prototype helicopters are powered by a modified gasoline engine and are about six feet long, including the rotor diameter. They can fly at speeds up to 60 mph.

Hodges said inquiries about the technology have come in from various government agencies, the film industry, as well as power and pipeline companies and local fire departments.

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