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We all know by now that quadcopters can do impressive things, such as be made out of Lego, be controlled with your mind, or be impervious to crashing, but did you know that they can be quite the entertainer, performing juggling stunts in midair? Some of the more impressive feats quadcopters can perform are juggling balls, and balancing an inverted pendulum. Now, Dario Brescianini, a student at ETH Zurich’s Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control, and some of his colleagues have developed an algorithm that allows for the adorable little fliers to juggle an inverted pendulum.

An inverted pendulum, as the name suggests, is a pole reminiscent of a standard pendulum that you might find on a clock, but the center of mass is above the pivot point. This makes the inverted pendulum difficult to balance, and thus, even more difficult for a not-entirely-steady, flying robot to accurately throw toward another not-entirely-steady flying robot. In order to achieve that goal, Brescianini turned to a 2D mathematical model.

Quadcopters juggling

After the model detailed acceptable behavior for the quadcopters, the team tested it out in the real world, allowing two quadcopters to play catch with an inverted pendulum. Considering the quadcopters would catch and balance the pendulum on one end of the stick, rather than on the curved sides, the team needed to protect the quadcopter from potentially being impaled. So, the ends of the pendulum were wrapped in a balloon, which is filled with flour.

Though the 2D model paved the way for the quadcopter balancing act, it wasn’t perfect, as catching the pendulum proved difficult. To correct this issue, the team had to include a learning algorithm so the system could update its catching methods as it found out if they worked or not.

Brescianini and company have taught us an important life lesson today: If two individual tasks are difficult to perform on their own, combining them clearly makes performing them a lot easier.

iPad Hospital Robot

Every time I hear a story about a robot that can perform tasks that are normally designated for humans, I think of movies like “Smart House” or “This House Possessed” where technology becomes possessed and attacks people. I know, its morbid. A lot of horror movies have themes of future technology gone awry. It’s good to know that in the 21st century, we’ve figured out a way keep our robots from killing people.

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the approval of the first autonomous telemedicine robot for hospitals. RP-VITA comes equipped with an iPad for a face so that doctors can visit with patients no matter where they are.

RP-VITA was created by iRobot in collaboration with InTouch Health. The automonous robot navigates using state-of-the-art telemedicine and electronic health record integration from InTouch Health. The robot can map its environment and use sensors to move around in a busy environment without getting in the way. The iPad interface allows doctors to communicate with patients and hospital staff to allow for better consultation and care.

The FDA clearance allows for RP-VITA to be used for active patient monitoring in pre-operative, peri-operative, and post-surgical settings, including cardiovascular, neurological, prenatal, psychological, and critical care assessments and examinations.

“FDA clearance of a robot that can move safely and independently through a fast-paced, chaotic and demanding hospital environment is a significant technological milestone for the robotics and healthcare industries,” said Colin Angle, chairman and CEO of iRobot. “There are very few environments as difficult to maneuver as that of a busy ICU or emergency department. Having crossed this technology threshold, the potential for self-navigating robots in other markets, and for new applications, is virtually limitless.”

Let’s just hope that RP-VITA doesn’t fall in love with a patient and then try to kill her family so it can have her all to itself.