The Freefall Camera (FFC) is a robot that can be tossed out of a plane to autonomously track and capture video of skydivers doing tricks. At a predetermined altitude, the robot pops its steerable parachute and lands near specified GPS coordinates. The University of Nottingham researchers who developed the Freefall Camera presented their work at last week's International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems. From IEEE Spectrum:
Building a robot that can successfully control its position and terminal velocity relative to another falling object is not something that’s been done before. There are freefall cameras designed to work in microgravity, but that’s a much different challenge: this camera has to be able to maneuver in a 120 mph (190 km/h) stream of air, which is all about passive aerodynamics. To steer itself, the FFC uses four vertical ailerons to control yaw (and eventually horizontal position), along with a pair of retractable flaps that increase or decrease the robot’s drag to slow it down or speed it up. A GoPro does the recording while a CMUcam5 vision sensor tracks colored blobs to stay locked onto its subject...
The tests showed that the FCC could generally track a human within 0.25 meters vertically, and 12 degrees of the center of the camera’s field of view. Occasionally, the camera would get confused by backgrounds or bright lights, so the next incarnation of the system will use an infrared beacon for tracking instead.
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