Snakelike robots have been deployed in Fukushima and teams are perfecting Boston Dynamics’ Atlas search-and-rescue humanoid robot[/url], but don’t count simple drones out yet: Drone company Flyability just won a $1 million prize for its GimBall rescue drone.
The GimBall has the standard drone parts–circuit board, propellers for lift–nestled within two rings that freely swing around like a gyroscope. Those rings connect to a geometric cage of carbon fiber, which makes the whole drone tough enough to bounce off of obstacles and continue on its merry way, unlike the dainty maneuvering most drones require.
To live up to the “crash-proof” moniker they gave the GimBall, the Flyability team tested the drone by dropping it in a forest and simply directing it to travel toward magnetic north. The drone banged through and around vegetation and trees for several hundred meters. Since the GimBall can smash around obstacles unharmed, it can ditch the weighty sensors that help typical drones avoid collisions, since even the slightest bump can destabilize and damage exposed rotors. As a bonus, the carbon fiber roll cage protects humans from the GimBall itself, avoiding the danger of high-RPM rotors.
The GimBall won the international portion of the United Arab Emirates’ Drones For Good competition, which drew competitors from the National University of Singapore to the New Zealand Coast Guard and beyond.
With the prize money, Flyability will continue to adapt the GimBall for search-and-rescue operations by adding infrared cameras for navigating through low-light, dusty, or smoky interiors and developing a better user interface.