Boomcopter is a Drone That Can Open Doors

A team of mechanical engineering researchers at Purdue University has developed a drone that can open and close doors, flip switches, and attach sensors to walls. Called the Boomcopter, it is designed to perform tasks in environments that would be dangerous or inaccessible to humans.

"We're interested in how micro aerial vehicles can interact with their environment," said David Cappelleri, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. "Most consumer drones can hover and take pictures, but because they have to tilt to maneuver, it's difficult for them to perform physical work."

The Boomcopter solves this problem by utilizing a tri-rotor design, allowing it to hover in the same way as the more common quad-rotor design.  But it also features an extra boom arm with a propeller mounted at 90 degrees, to move the drone back and forth as it hovers.  That arm is then equipped with a variety of tools, or "end effectors," to accomplish certain tasks.

"Right now, we're testing a push-to-release mechanism that can attach devices onto a wall," said Daniel McArthur, Ph.D. candidate who built the Boomcopter.  "This is useful for scenarios like structural integrity.  If we needed to measure the stability of a building or a bridge, the Boomcopter could fly to an inaccessible area and attach a remote sensor, which could safely relay information to a team on the ground."  And because the end effectors are customized 3D-printed tools, the Boomcopter could be made to perform any number of tasks in hard-to-reach locations: from changing light bulbs and batteries, to maintaining HVAC equipment or elevator shafts.

The Boomcopter can also operate autonomously.  "It has several on-board sensors, cameras, and processors," said Arindam Chowdhury, a Ph.D. candidate who works on the Boomcopter's programming. "Using open-source software, we can train it to recognize items like a door handle, and then open the door automatically, without any human intervention."

While their project aims for open-source and customizable solutions for all, the Boomcopter team are already thinking big.  "One of our goals is to use the Boomcopter to deploy other robots," said McArthur. "We have a ground-based robot called the AgBug, and we can envision the Boomcopter deploying the AgBug in the middle of a cornfield, and then retrieving it after it's done -- all autonomously."

Cappelleri also sees a bright future for these types of micro aerial vehicles. "Imagine if first responders could use drones, not just as an eye-in-the-sky, but also to physically assist in moving rubble, or locating survivors.  Any task that could be dangerous for humans, we can utilize a drone to accomplish it."

Research conducted at Herrick Labs:
David Cappelleri is assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue, working with Ph.D. candidates Daniel McArthur and Arindam Chowdhury.  Visit his lab:  He is also the faculty advisor for the Purdue Drone Club: