Autonomous indoor robotic blimps for research and education

Technology #7136

Background: Robotic platforms are an integral part of research and development in the field of autonomy. Since the advent of highly maneuverable and simple multi-copters much focus has been devoted to these robotic platforms. However, limited flight time and safety of the personnel around the multi-copters are the major concerns which limit the application of the multi-copters to mostly outdoors applications that can be completed in approximately 30 minutes. To support the research involving robots capable of 3D motion, inventors at Georgia Tech developed an autonomous blimp which has much longer flight time compared to a multi-copter and is safe for interaction with human beings. This platform has been demonstrated to be useful for various research activities such as human robot interaction, swarming and environmental mapping. The blimp was also used to educate middle and high school kids about control design and human robot interaction.

Technology: Fumin Zhang, Vivek Mishra, Jesse Varnell, Sungjin Cho, Quiyang Tao, and Phillip Sung Tse Cheng at Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a miniature autonomous blimp which can be used to support research in the variety of areas such as human robot interaction, swarming, environmental mapping and education, with potential commercial values. The blimp comprises of an envelope and a customized gondola. The saucer shape of the envelope was chosen to make the blimp stable along two axes of rotation. The gondola contains four propellers driven by four motors to control the vertical and horizontal motion of the blimp. The gondola harbors all the electronics and electrical components of the blimp including a processor, a wireless communication module, a camera, IMU, a battery and sensors. The modular design of the blimp allows various types of sensors to attached to the blimp including range sensor, light sensor, humidity sensor, sound sensor, CO2 sensor and more. 

Commercial Applications: Inventors have demonstrated the robot’s capability to follow a human and recognize human gestures, which can be used to study how people perceive and react to flying drones. Using the interaction capability, the blimp can serve as a personal shopping aid in a supermarket or a personal guide at a museum. Additionally, the system can be used for indoor aerial applications such as swarming research, field mapping, surveillance, inspection of structures,  and videography. It is particularly suitable for guiding a group in a crowded place such as a theater or a stadium. 

Benefits & Advantages: 

  • Miniature and low cost robotic platform for indoor robotic research involving 3D motion.
  • Long flight duration of more than 4 hours. 
  • Safe for interaction with humans which makes it a perfect platform for human. robot interaction research and education.
  • Carefully chosen design to provide stability in 2 axes.
  • Judiciously chosen electronics to support research in areas of swarming, environmental monitoring, surveillance and reconnaissance, human robot interaction and education.