Ann Arbor Startup Plans Autonomous Flying Robots

By Kody Klein

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) – Danny Ellis started the University of Michigan’s Autonomous Aerial Vehicles Team in 2009 with one objective: to build a robot light enough to fly, smart enough to do it independently, and competitive enough to take first place at the International Aerial Robotics Competition.

This past August, the U-M team met that objective when its design outperformed robots from 20 other universities from around the world.

It was the third year participants attempted to conquer the competition’s sixth mission wherein competing robots had to fly into a building through an open window, navigate the course to retrieve a target flash drive, leave a decoy in place of the drive, and exit the building.

No robot fulfilled the mission objectives completely. In fact, some self-terminated inside the course, per the competition’s rules.

On their best run, the U-M team didn’t bother programming its robot to pick up the flash drive, due to retrieval malfunctions it had suffered on previous runs.

“In the last attempt, we just wanted to prove that we could be at first place,” Ellis told

That prudence paid off – their robot stole the show when it autonomously navigated the entire course in under five minutes without bumping into anything.

Inspired by their success, Ellis and his peers aimed their sights higher. They started a company to commercialize autonomous aerial robot technology for industrial applications.

The company, SkySpecs, took the $50,000 first place prize at the fifth annual Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge Feb. 15 at the Ross School of Business.

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Posted by on Apr 1st, 2013 and filed under Techline. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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