Sufer, who is in charge of the company’s worldwide R&D and product-development efforts, has established partnerships with other academic institutions, such as the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and the University of California, San Diego.
The goal of such partnerships, he notes, is to “surpass what’s being done in the toy industry” and be able to mass-produce robust robotic toys at reasonable prices.
“We have to really capture people’s imaginations by making the impossible happen, and we need to bring really advanced stuff into our products to hit that bar,” Mr. Sufer explains.
“However good the engineers are in our company, we still don’t know everything about every last system and every last theory out there in the world of technology. Universities really give us a way to access something new that hasn’t been done before, because no one has commercialized the academic effort.”
Rodrigues says this type of collaboration is critical to the invention and perfection of the robotic toys of the future. “You need algorithms and you need methodology in place to be able to program the robot to do something.”
In the case of the R.E.V. Air quadcopter, Sufer says that enabling its quadrotor to fly itself requires a navigation mode that works in a cluttered indoor environment, like a home.
To address this need, WowWee developed an infrared sensor system, which dramatically reduced the cost compared with expensive cameras typically found in such devices.
But it needed the Concordia researchers such as Mr. Di Perna to develop advanced controls, so the quadrotor could maintain its position and altitude in real time.
Future considerations include the maximization of the drone’s energy, Rodrigues notes, in order to extend its “mission time,” as well as synchronizing multiple vehicles, so they don’t collide.
Such research produces what he calls “deliverables” for engineers. “It’s not going to just stay on paper and in simulations; we’re actually going to build something,” he says. “In fact, it has been built and is flying.”
Indeed, in just a few months, Rodrigues and his team finished the design and implementation of the algorithm for the R.E.V Air.
A prototype was successfully demonstrated at the Toy Industry Association fall preview show in Dallas in October.
The collaborative work with WowWee has been fast-paced and rewarding, says Rodrigues, who is currently also developing autopilots for commercial aircraft.
He says the two areas of research are somewhat related. For example, making the quadrotors fly in such a way that they minimize battery use has parallels with designing a jet-propelled aircraft to minimize fuel consumption.
“The objectives are the same.”
Moreover, direct applications in the real world for R.E.V. Air technology could include a police drone following a suspect’s car.
“It would be outdoors and the sensors would be different,” says Rodrigues, “but the methodology to follow the car and the algorithm would be the same or similar.”
For engineers, fundamental research is critical to practical applications.
“It’s a combination of both that’s important,” he explains. “You start by developing some theory or some methodology with the view of applying it to a given problem, but you only get a chance to apply it to the problem once that theory and that methodology are solid.”
According to Sufer, the ultimate success of robotic toys such as R.E.V. Air will always go back to math and physics.
“That’s the basis of all of this. You can’t fake it ... There are no shortcuts,” he points out, noting too that the collaboration with Concordia is ongoing.
Bringing great ideas to life starts with developing the right technology and doing the research, says Rodrigues.
“It’s one thing to dream something. The issue is how we make it happen.”
Find out more about Concordia's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.