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A robotic hand attached to a small helicopter can successfully and autonomously grip objects while the helicopter is hovering, as demonstrated by a group at Yale University led by Aaron Dollar, one of this year’s TR35s.

The helicopter hand, dubbed the Yale Aerial Manipulator, could be used in spots that are difficult for ground robots to get to, such as high or roughly terrained places. It could also be used to pick up bombs or packages, or even as a form of delivery, moving packages in urban environments where trucks would have a hard time, suggests Paul Pounds, first author of the work.

The hand helicopter can carry objects that weigh up to two kilograms, at speeds reaching 130 kilometers an hour. The robotic hand, which is made of a flexible plastic, is operated by a single motor that controls four fingers. The simple, lightweight design of the hand also absorbs vibrations when the hand grips an object, letting the helicopter hover stably.

The video below shows the flying grasper successfully grasping objects while flying.


The researchers will present their results at the ASME Dynamic Systems and Control Conference next month. They will detail how the helicopter hand was able to pick up a wooden block successfully in 20 grasp attempts, even when the hand was not positioned over the block’s center.

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