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Flying 'Gimball' Brings New Impact To Drone Rescue Technology

posted 4 Nov 2013, 08:56 by Mpelembe   [ updated 4 Nov 2013, 08:57 ]

 Swiss-based researchers have devised a spherical flying robot that can withstand multiple collisions and continue to transmit live video footage in hard-to-reach environments. The lightweight Gimball doesn't require unwieldy sensors and its inventors believe it could be used to help with search and rescue missions. Jim Drury has more.

LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND (REUTERS / EPFL) -  Gimball is a flying robot with a difference - it's able to transmit continuous live footage in difficult terrain, even when confronted with obstacles.

It's designed to replicate an insect's ability to shrug off collisions, says co-creator Adrien Briod, from Swiss technology institute EPFL.


"We wanted to produce this ability of insects to cope with collisions and stay in the air after contact, instead of breaking and falling to the ground.... so that's why we developed the Gimball robot that allows this inner frame to remain stable even when there is a strong collision that affects the orientation of the outer frame, the protective frame."

Fitted with an HD camera, Gimball's double carbon-fibre spherical ring keeps it oriented vertically. According to co-designer Przemek Kornatowski, its exterior cage absorbs shocks as it rotates.

PRZEMEK KORNATOWSKI (PRON: Sham-ack Corner-tov-ski):

"The cage, for example, this spherical structure around is made of carbon fibres, carbon fibre rods, with this white plastic parts which connect them together. The robot can actually, when it's flying can also roll on the obstacles or on the floor or on the walls."

Thirty four centimetres in diameter and weighing just 370 grams, Gimball is powered by twin propellers and steered by fins. Its gyroscopic stabilisation system helps it stay on course.

Briod says Gimball offers a crash-proof leap forward in rescue mission camera technology.


"Typically we're able to fly through a forest without even avoiding the trees, it would just fly into them and continue flying after the collision. We want to fly in collapsed buildings, in factories that may have been demolished or places wherever we would want to go and search for gas leaks etc., people after an earthquake."

Other drones use motion sensors, which Briod says are heavy, fragile, and unable to operate in smoky conditions.

But he says it's Gimball's resilience that sets it apart and, in the competitive world of drone technology, provides an impact that's hard to ignore.