Robotics Education Journal


Business-to-business publisher WTWH Media has announced the winners of the 2020 RBR50 robotics innovation awards. We recommend exploring this comprehensive report on 50 of the leading robotics firms.


Pierce Aerospace is a “Remote Identification” company that supplies drone Remote ID information to the US Department of Defense and commercial sectors. Pierce Aerospace uses their identification management technologies to assist in identifying drones while they are flying in the National Airspace System using broadcast or network identification methods. Gary Bullock said, “As the proposed rules stand, if a drone is larger than 250 grams, it will have to be equipped with Remote ID.” Bullock explained, “It’s like a digital license plate in the sky.”
Pierce Aerospace saw a business opportunity given the high demand for remote drone identification services, and has several remote ID engagements. The US Air Force awarded a contract to Pierce in Fall 2018 and they’ve worked with US Army Futures Command since early 2019, including providing Remote ID capabilities to live-fire experiments.
Commercial engagements include alignments with Redwing Labs, a drone delivery company located in India and Altitude Angel, an Unmanned Traffic Management provider based in the United Kingdom. “We’re an integrator that adds value to other existing or future technologies including UTM providers or Counter-UAS systems,” explained Bullock. “This is an infrastructure technology and we’re happy to support the success of others as this industry grows.”


The U.S. Army will award a June 2020 contract for hundreds of unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) automated robotic mules to the winning bidder. These off-road machines will assist troops by hauling tons of supplies for light infantry on the move. Mobility is achieved by tracks, wheels, and in one case the candidate vehicle uses all-metal tweels.


KUBeetle-S weighs 15.8grams and is capable of controlled multi-directional flight for up to 9 minutes. The aerial robot is a biomimetic design patterned after the flying beetle, Allomyrina dichotoma.


Robohub recently posted a fascinating interview with Mark Tilden, the longtime advocate of BEAM robotics (BEAM stands for Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics, and Mechanics). BEAM robotics are based on simple analog circuits. BEAM robots, in comparison to digital-processor based robots, are lower-cost and noted for their efficiency. Tilden modeled many BEAM robots after biological form factors, and his robots could navigate relatively complex environments using only a few transistors and basic sensors. One of his goals was to stimulate STEM learning among robot enthusiasts, and he designed his BEAM robots to be disassembled and repurposed in other experiments.


Can small-diameter tactical tunnel networks resupply the military effectively? Can a giant “robot earthworm” dig the tunnels? DefenseOne[dot]com reports that “Underminer aims to create aggressive tunneling approaches, downhole sensing, and …could incorporate capabilities from the commercial sector, including oil and gas, utility, geological, environmental, and other industries.”


On April 10,, the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association, published a report titled “Underwater Glider Collects Data to Study Red Tide Bloom Dynamics off Gulf Coast of Florida.” The report highlighted the Teledyne Slocum Glider remotely operated vehicle (ROV), a buoyancy-driven gliding robot capable of long-range fleet missions addressing a diverse range of sampling applications. The ROV can be remotely controlled or run pre-programmed routes with regular surfacing to transmit data to operators and download new instructions.


Riding a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, the vehicle that resembles a little sister to the Space Shuttle blasted off from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 9:14 a.m. EDT (1314 GMT). The secretive mission explores microwave power transmission, and is summarized in a few images and an illustration, in a report by Amy Thompson, courtesy of Space[dot]com.

05/14/2020 reported that Blue Bear Systems Research, Ltd., in Bedford, England, successfully flew 5 autonomous fixed wing drones under beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) conditions. The BVLOS flight demonstrated that a drone swarm could execute multiple simultaneous tasks remotely while being flown by a single human operator.


At a recent C4ISR Conference, a senior DARPA official noted that a DARPA project in gestation could boost the NAVY’s unmanned surface vessel aspirations forward a decade. Multiple programs are underway for the NAVY’s development of medium and large unmanned surface vehicles. The DARPA project, christened “NOMARS” (for “no mariners”), is a separate mission, but the benefits it might produce could be “a giant leap forward” for the NAVY concepts, said Mike Leahy, head of the DARPA Tactical Technology Office.


Brad Lendon reported for CNN WORLD that the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in Sydney has received its first “loyal wingman” jet-powered drone that uses artificial intelligence. The prototype represents a new generation of AI enabled UAVs that will support manned aircraft at a “safe distance.” The drones will support intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR) missions and perform electronic warfare.
Boeing reported that the drone is the first aircraft "to be designed, engineered and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years." The drones will protect F-35 stealth fighters but also may be used to help manage the coronavirus crisis.


The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has awarded a contract to QinetiQ to lead phase five of the Maritime Autonomous Platform Exploitation (MAPLE) project. MAPLE will assist British warships in the integration of unmanned vehicles and payloads that best fit specific mission requirements. Objectives include enabling “the use of multiple MAPLE systems in a force, as well as the integrated command and control of effector systems deployed from maritime autonomous systems.”


Before manned aircraft enter hostile airspace, three different types of drones – long-range, tactical, and miniaturized – will rip open the seams in the enemy’s defenses. Long before human pilots or troops are deployed in battle zones, drones will scout out enemy defenses, neutralize their radars and strike vital points.


DARPA announced 13 April that it had issued 9 new drone contracts to companies developing drone swarm tech. DARPA is stimulating research through its OFFSET (Offensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics) program. The program works in five main areas: physical test bed, swarm tactics, swarm autonomy, human-swarm teaming, and virtual environments. The agency seeks to encourage rapid innovation in one or more of those areas. “The nine awards mark the fifth such swarm sprint, with this one focused on swarm tactics and physical test beds in an urban environment.”


On 25 April, posted a wide-ranging article on Chinese history and current technology initiatives penned by H.R. MCMASTER. The piece first appeared in The Atlantic. The analysis uses the concept of “strategic empathy” to characterize the Chinese forward-looking thought process, from China’s perspective, on developing its resources and world position. We recommend the article because Western robotics and AI technologies comprise an important competitive segment of the world’s technological future.


A key robot assisting with firefighting at the Notre Dame conflagration was the Shark Robotics Colossus. Its fixtures included LEMO connectors. A quick look at the complexity of these connectors illuminates the many functions of plug & play connectors in modern robots. These range from power and electronic data communications to brake control. Significant engineering goes into their design.


The plan by Westport, CT, police to use drones to spot potential covid-19 sufferers from afar has been grounded. Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas said that he was thankful for the opportunity to participate but wanted to be responsive to citizens' concerns. Many had raised privacy concerns after the town announced the partnership with Draganfly.


The Westport News reported on Tuesday, April 21, that Westport, CT, is the first town in CT to deploy drones to fight the coronavirus. “This pandemic has opened up a new frontier and urgent need for the use of drones,” Police Chief Foti Koskinas said Tuesday. “Using drones remains a go-to technology for reaching remote areas with little to no manpower required. Because of this technology, our officers will have the information and quality data they need to make the best decision in any given situation.”


Wired magazine has posted a terrific summary of robotics, soup to nuts, that we recommend reviewing. It includes historical background, basics on terminology, an overview of sensors, actuators and AI, and a lot more.


Khalil Najafi, engineering and computer science professor at the University of Michigan, reports that “Our gyroscope is 10,000 times more accurate but only 10 times more expensive than gyroscopes used in your typical cell phones…” The new gyro design is actually a resonator made nearly-pure glass that can vibrate for extended periods. The new gyro enables use of high-precision inertial navigation and may find applications ranging from field use by the military to warehouse robotics.


The commercial drone industry will continue its rapid expansion with North America showing the largest unit demand by 2023, when it will represent 32.3% of the market, Frost & Sullivan predicted. The firm estimated that demand will reach 29.1% in APAC and 23.3% in Europe by that time. “With the surge in demand for commercial drones by the professional segment, unit shipment is estimated to rise at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.5%, reaching 2.91 million units by 2023 from 2.44 million units in 2019.”


A new, updated 2nd edition of Ballard College’s renowned “The Drone Databook” has been released and can be downloaded at the link noted below. The updated report provides comprehensive information on inventory, products, R&D and export activities by country, and much more.


The Mars Perseverance rover mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the Red Planet. The Mars Perseverance mission addresses high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key questions about the potential for life on Mars. The mission is timed for a launch opportunity in July/August 2020 when Earth and Mars are in good positions relative to each other for landing on Mars. The photo shows the mounting of the Mars coaxial helicopter.


c-Link Systems, Inc., has introduced 7 new unmanned ground systems (UGVs), similar in planform to the original c-Link Forager but smaller in scale. c-Link was established in 1997 and has extensive background in robotics as well as industrial fiber optic communications and controls. The company initially developed its flagship Forager mining and search & rescue UGV, as well as the diminutive S&R Vole-Bot, in the late 1990s. The new UGVs are compact, upgraded systems that address challenges in distinct markets.


The BBC recently reported that unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) are patrolling the streets in Tunisia to monitor and help enforce social isolation rules. These robots, called PGuards, are controlled by human operators remotely and ask pedestrians if they are adhering to the North African nation’s coronavirus restrictions.


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