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At the beginning of October, the World Expo 2020 opened its gates in Dubai, after a year's delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic. As usual, it is supposed to be a global showcase of the best that countries have achieved in the field of (not only) technology. The exhibition is held under the motto Connecting Minds, Creating the Future. Connecting minds relates to cities, or rather smart cities. According to the organisers of the exhibition, these smart cities are one of the main gateways to a sustainable future.

Sustainable mobility is an integral part of the sustainable future plan, which includes new, alternative modes of transport, such as drones. Visitors to the Expo can now meet them in the Czech pavilion as part of a rotating exhibition called Robot's 100th Birthday, which is intended to commemorate the 100 years since the word "robot" was first mentioned in Karel Čapek's play R.U.R. The exhibition features a total of six drones representing various robotic projects being worked on by the Multirobotic Systems (MRS) group at the Department of Cybernetics at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering of the Czech Technical University in Prague. The group is working with a globally unique technology of very precise helicopter control, which is proving to be significantly the most reliable and successful of all competing solutions. The ability to fly very accurately and therefore safely, is crucial for deployment in a wide range of situations, especially in confined spaces and building interiors. The team has made significant progress in the development of these technologies over several years of intensive research in collaboration with the world's leading laboratories. Today's drones can move autonomously along a predetermined safe route while responding to unexpected obstacles.

The Multirobotic Systems Group is also presenting a pilot project for autonomous delivery of parcels by drone at the World Expo together with Packeta. The project, which is currently undergoing a testing phase, could represent the future of parcel delivery. The drones could cooperate with other robots being developed by the Czech company Zásilkovna, which belongs to the Packeta group.

"The research team led by Assoc. Martin Saska represents the world's leading workplace
in the development of autonomously controlled drones and I am particularly pleased that not doctoral students but also master's and even bachelor's students are given space in this process," said Prof. Petr Páta, Dean of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at CTU, in connection with the student presentation of drones at the world exhibition in Dubai.

The latest example of student involvement in research activities is a drone with a fire extinguishing capsule which is designed to fight fires in multi-storey buildings. As part of his bachelor's thesis, Vojtěch Nydrle, a student of the Cybernetics and Robotics programme, designed and assembled it in cooperation with FEL researchers.

 A tradition of success

The invitation for MRS to the World Exhibition, which is historically held in an Arab country for the first time, has its logic. "It was in the United Arab Emirates that we first established ourselves in an international context. We took part in the prestigious Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge (MBZIRC) in Abu Dhabi in 2017 and won first and second place in our respective disciplines. We were able to build on this success in the next competition in 2020, when we were also declared the overall winner of the competition," said Assoc. Prof. Martin Saska, who leads a team of about 30 roboticists. The MBZIRC competition is considered the unofficial world championship of drones.

The MRS group continues to be very active in the UAE. This spring, it tested a swarm of drones in the local desert for deployment in humanitarian Search & Rescue operations to search for lost or injured persons. In collaboration with a local industry partner, MRS researchers are also exploring the possibility of involving drones in firefighting inside skyscrapers.

Six projects

The drones currently on display at the World Expo represent the following six robotics projects.

It is designed to catch other hostile drones. EAGLE.ONE can shoot a net at a distance of a few meters, which catches the intruder in the airspace and delivers it to the designated place without damage. The fully autonomous drone offers a wide range of applications in airport security, critical infrastructure and industrial site protection or privacy protection.

As part of the world's unique Dronument project, drones are recording rare historical assets and assisting conservationists in their restoration. A formation of two unmanned helicopters, one carrying a camera and the other a light source, reaches hard-to-reach and poorly lit places such as domes, balconies, statues, stained glass windows and other objects that would otherwise require scaffolding to explore.

DARPA Subterranean Challenge
As part of the CTU-CRAS-NORLAB team, the MRSX500 platform along with the world's best seven robotics teams, participated in the final round of a competition organized by the U. S. government agency DARPA. In the competition, drones work with ground robots to explore underground complexes and search for designated objects or people. It is their early detection that determines success in the competition and subsequently in rescue practice in confined underground spaces such as caves or garages.

DOFEC (Discharging Of Fire Extinguishing Capsules)
An autonomous drone specifically developed for the purpose of firefighting in high-rise and multi-storey buildings. The drone detects and locates the fire using an infrared camera. It then fires a capsule with a penetrating bullet to the fire site and the bullet breaks the window. The gas in the capsule then extinguishes the fire. The possibilities of using autonomous drones in firefighting are quite promising. In addition to the aforementioned firefighting itself, they can help in locating people or dangerous objects (e.g. gas cylinders).

The drone was deployed at the Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge (MBZIRC) 2017 in Abu Dhabi to locate and land on a marked moving vehicle, and in a task where a squadron of drones had to find and collect various coloured objects scattered in space. The MRS group dominated during this task.

It was developed for the MBZIRC competition in 2020, one of the tasks (Challenge 2) was to build a wall of different coloured mock-up bricks using a squadron of autonomous drones together with an autonomous ground robot. This challenge examined the use of drones in the construction of high-rise buildings. The MRST650 is also capable of carrying other objects such as delivering small packages or medicine to clients. Thus, drones could help streamline the delivery of packages to end recipients in the future. This service would suitably complement the infrastructure of the company Zásilkovna, which is exhibiting together with CTU in the Czech pavilion.

Budoucnost alternativní mobility na Expu 2020 ukazují české drony -, Petr Jechort