Imagine a disaster-relief scenario
where people need to be transported from one side of a ravine to the other, in
an area not easily accessed by ground vehicles. What could a series of
lightweight quadrotor drones do to help, besides record overhead video or drop
off a few candy bars at a time? Amazingly, they could build a rope bridge to
span the chasm.
Researchers at ETH Zürich (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)
have rigged up a series of drones with spools loaded up with rope. Because the
spools are motorized, the drones can control the tension on the rope they deploy
as they fly. The researchers then programmed the things to build a rope bridge
between two scaffolds—freaking autonomously:
The project came about after the
researchers factored in the key positive and negative aspects of a quadrotor.
The positive: Can travel anywhere. The negative: Small payload capacity. Thus
they struck upon the construction of lightweight tensile structures as being an
ideal fit for drone duty.
The rope bridge acts as a
demonstrator, showing for the first time that small flying machines are capable
of autonomously realizing load-bearing structures at full-scale and proceeding
a step further towards real-world scenarios.
Except for the required anchor
points at both ends of the structure, the bridge consists exclusively of
tensile elements and its connections and links are entirely realized by flying
machines. Spanning 7.4 m between two scaffolding structures, the bridge
consists of nine rope segments for a total rope length of about 120 m and is
composed of different elements, such as knots, links, and braid.
You can read more about the project