The floating orb that you see here is designed with the intention of being able to pick up small objects and then drop them off where they are needed. It might one day be the perfect autonomous flying machine for delivering small packages. The device has the not so eloquent name of the FreeMotionHandling project and it is from the Festo Bionic Learning Network.
The project is a combination of two other projects including the FlexShapeGripper and the MotionSphere the firm showed off previously. The gripper portion is an autonomous gripping sphere that can hold an object, pick it up, and fly where needed and drop it off. FreeMotionHandling is a concept that features a 54-inch diameter inflated sphere with a rotor ring around it and a gripper attached that is flexible.
The sphere is helium filled and it weighs three pounds, but the helium inside gives the flying sphere an in-air weight of 50g. The ring with rotors has four oriented horizontally and four vertically for steering. The result is a propulsion and steering system that can provide thrust in any direction. The rotors are powered by electric motors and the flying machine uses six rechargeable batteries.
Right now, the maximum unladen flight time is 40 minutes. For now, the device operates in a special enclosure fitted with ten infrared cameras that watch the sphere thanks to eight IR LED markers on the flying machine. Cameras are able to record where the sphere is at 160 frames per seconds and sends the data to a central computer that analyzes the information. The integrated griper can wrap around objects like apples or bottles and lift multiple objects at a maximum weight of 0.9 pounds. The video below shows the strange flying machine in action.