U of M patents new aerial mini robot

by Peter Beacom

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University of Minnesota Center for Distributed RoboticsThe University of Minnesota was issued patent 8,342,440 B2 in January for a wheeled robot that can deploy helicopter blades and fly.

The invention is a product of the University’s Center for Distributed Robotics, led by Professor Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos and developed with research assistant Alex Kossett.

The center is best known as the the birthplace of the two-wheeled Scout robot, technology commercialized by ReconRobotics as a successful tactical surveillance product.

The claims of the patent cover a robot similar in form factor to the Scout that is able to transform into an aerial machine in around three seconds, providing a different vantage point from the air while overcoming ground obstacles.

“We believe that this is a game-changer since it addresses the serious mobility problems of ground robots in rough terrain,” says Papanikolopoulos.

Eric Hockert, a technology marketing manager at the University of Minnesota Office for Technology Commercialization, is leading the effort to find a commercialization partner for the patent.

According to Hockert the mechanics behind the transformation between flight and ground mode are particularly innovative and contribute a great amount of uniqueness to the patent. He stresses that the invention that exists today, “is a prototype, not a product.” The University is looking for “partners capable of economically bringing a product to market that makes use of the patented technology.”

Twelve startup companies were created to commercialize University of Minnesota intellectual property last year and five were in technology. It is yet to be seen if a new company will be started by entrepreneurs interested in this invention, or if it will be licensed by an existing company. Any details of discussions with the potential commercial partners that have occurred since the patent issued are not being made public.

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