Autonomous Unmanned Helicopter Demoed in Japan

Jul 30, 2014
Masaya Sato, Nikkei Monozukuri
The "MS-06LA" small unmanned helicopter used in the demonstration
The "MS-06LA" small unmanned helicopter used in the demonstration
[Click to enlarge image]
The demonstration
The demonstration
[Click to enlarge image]
Its stability was demonstrated by applying an external force.
Its stability was demonstrated by applying an external force.
[Click to enlarge image]

Chiba University demonstrated a small unmanned helicopter (multicopter) that is equipped with laser scanners (infrared sensors) and can autonomously fly around while avoiding walls and obstacles.

The helicopter, "MS-06LA," can be used for inspection and observation even in buildings, underground malls, tunnels and forests as well as under bridges and in other areas where a GPS cannot be used.

The demonstration took place at Techno-Frontier 2014, which ran from July 23 to 25, 2014, in Tokyo, in collaboration with Minisurveyor Consortium, an organization that develops and examines autonomous flying technologies.

The main body of MS-06LA weighs about 3kg. When it is equipped with a battery and laser scanners, it weighs 8kg. It comes with two laser scanners to recognize space in the horizontal and vertical directions. The observation range of each scanner is 270°. The helicopter autonomously flies around while creating a 3D map of the surrounding space every 10 milliseconds, measuring altitude and recognizing obstacles.

Also, because three one-axis gyroscopes control the propellers, the helicopter automatically keeps its balance. The platform for takeoff and landing is equipped with an automatic battery changer, and the helicopter can continually fly without manual operations.

This time, the university and consortium demonstrated battery exchange, takeoff, flying, landing, etc with the helicopter. Based on the 3D map and video shot by a camera mounted on the helicopter, an operator provided minimal instructions such as "Take off," "Move forward" and "Land" at a control board away from the helicopter. In the demonstration, even when a staff member applied an external force to the flying helicopter by hand, it automatically kept its balance and returned to its original location.

If the helicopter is programmed to take a certain flight route or carry out certain operations, it automatically flies without any instruction. When the helicopter cannot autonomously fly due to a problem in the body or noise, it is possible to switch to manual operation. It can continuously fly for about 10 minutes per charge.

The university and consortium aim to use MS-06LA for indoor inspection, radiation measurement, etc in environments that humans cannot enter such as the site of a nuclear accident. Requested by the Japanese government, etc, they plan to apply the helicopter to the checkup of the Fukushima nuclear power plant within 2014.