Drone swarms use nets to catch other drones in flight

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Sandia National Laboratories researchers leading the MARCUS project are working to develop a system that addresses current and future national security threats posed by small unmanned aircraft systems

Robotics engineers from Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) are developing drones that can capture hostile drones in flight. Funded by the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme, the Mobile Adaptive/Reactive Counter Unmanned System (MARCUS) project uses swarms of four unmanned quad-copters working in concert to intercept a drone and catch it in a net.

As drones become more numerous and more sophisticated, they also pose a growing threat. Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) are now a major component of the world’s major militaries but drones are also showing up in terrorist attacks, invasions of privacy, or acts of mischief at airports that could down an aircraft.

There have been a number of anti-drone systems developed over the years, including jammers, lasers, and even eagles trained to bring them down, but MARCUS aims to not only counter the threat of small UAVs but also to capture them for disposal or information gathering. According to SNL, this isn’t the first system to use nets but it is the first to combine nets with teams of drones controlled by a ground-based computer to coordinate the swarm’s course to ensure interception.

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SwarmTouch: A tactile interaction strategy for human-swarm communication

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A user manipulating the formation of a swarm of drones using SwarmTouch. Credit: Tsykunov et al.

 SwarmTouch: a tactile interaction strategy for human-swarm communication

Researchers at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) in Russia have recently introduced a new strategy to enhance interactions between humans and robotic swarms, called SwarmTouch. This strategy, presented in a paper pre-published on arXiv, allows a human operator to communicate with a swarm of nano-quadrotor drones and guide their formation, while receiving tactile feedback in the form of vibrations.

“We are working in the field of swarm of drones and my previous research in the field of haptics was very helpful in introducing a new frontier of tactile human-swarm interactions,” Dzmitry Tsetserukou, Professor at Skoltech and head of Intelligent Space Robotics laboratory, told TechXplore. “During our experiments with the swarm, however, we understood that current interfaces are too unfriendly and difficult to operate.”

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The US Air Force has a new weapon called THOR that can take out swarms of drones

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Ding, the drone is done

In recent years, small drones have made their way onto battlefields where they’ve been used to surveil US forces or drop bombs on them, prompting the US military to develop new ways to take them down. This week, the US Air Force unveiled a new tool that can be stationed at bases around the world: a high-powered microwave system called Tactical High Power Microwave Operational Responder (THOR), which is designed to protect bases against swarms of drones.

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Micro-drones with winches can open doors and lift 40 times their own weight

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Micro-drones are nifty little things: small, fast, and agile. But they’re not the strongest machines around, and are barely capable of exerting more force than a small mouse head-butting your ankle. Until now. Scientists from Stanford University and EPFL in Switzerland have created a micro-drone with a built-in winch that’s capable of lifting up to 40 times its own weight and performing simple mechanical tasks like opening a door.

The key to the design is the use of interchangeable adhesives on the drone’s base: microspines for digging into rough materials like stucco, carpet, or rubble, and ridged silicone (inspired by the morphology of gecko feet) for grabbing onto glass. Both microspines and silicone ridges only cling to surfaces in one direction, meaning they can be easily detached. With these in place, the micro-drones can pull well above their 100-gram weight, exerting 40 newtons of force or enough to lift four kilograms (about eight pounds).

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A billion aircraft: the future of drones

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If US futurist Thomas Frey is right, in only 12 years drones will be as ubiquitous as cars. Frey says there will be 1 billion drones in use around the world by 2030. What exotic new roles will these combinations of computing, robotics and aerodynamics play in society? Here are a few exciting new ways drones are currently redefining aviation and its purpose.

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