How can quadrotors change the future of engineering?

By: Kate Kershner

With a Little Help From Our Quadrotor Friends

So with that background, we've proven that yes, quadrotors seem awesome. Little robot helicopters using algorithms to make decisions! Who needs more convincing?

But quadrotors aren't just a way for doctoral engineering students to goof off in the lab on the weekends. They're being developed for some extremely cool and useful purposes, some of which just might make an engineer's job a lot easier and safer.


One big deal way that quadrotors are lending a hand is by venturing into really dangerous places. It's similar to the role bomb-disposal units play, where robots may inspect or disable bombs. Except these bomb-sniffing robots (totally senseless name I just gave them) are being controlled by an operator and mimicking movements [source: Tarantolo]. Quadrotors are able to fly on their own, collecting information. No offense to our teeny robot friends, but nobody minds sending them in to unstable, collapsing buildings to map the location and pinpoint hazards. So imagine that the first responders to a disaster were actually robots designed to sniff out danger and send back data to engineers or even medics on the ground.

We've already seen them being used in places that no engineer could go. After the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011, quadrotors assessed buildings not far from Fukushima. They mapped the buildings without being harmed by the kind of nuclear radiation that damage weak humans, with their delicate organs and fragile sensibilities. These quadrotors can map and record locations in a building without knowing anything about its layout or design beforehand; GPS devices allow them to be operated from a distance, and the quadrotors themselves can detect locations and draw up detailed building plans from them.

Also potentially interesting to engineers is the fact that the quadrotors can actually lift and place things like beams or other construction materials. Now yes, these quadrotors are small. But remember you can get a group of them to communicate and work together to carry heavier payloads. Envision swarms and swarms of drones putting together a skyscraper.

Which means that robots could literally build a building. All you have to do is program the bots with an algorithm that tells them how to do it, and then they're basically off to the mines. And it's not just emergencies where quadrotors could be useful; they can do routine inspections for buildings, as well as general safety inspections for pipelines or the like [source: Dillow].

But even though the applications for quadrotors in the engineering field are far-ranging, it's important to note that no one really knows yet what the quadrotor is capable of. The technology is new, ever-improving and has no limits right now. Quadrotors are changing the face of engineering by helping engineers in the field, but pretty soon they might be replacing the engineers completely.

Author's Note: How can quadrotors change the future of engineering?

While it's clear that quadrotors have incredible potential in the engineering field (not to mention emergency response, construction, law enforcement and so on), it's safe to say that we're not really sure of the absolute best use for them yet. There are many commercial possibilities, but it will take a lot more research -- and a creative spark, no doubt -- to find their best use.

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