Flying Machine Arena

A state-of-the-art platform for motion control research.

The Flying Machine Arena offers a safe, controlled sandbox environment allowing the testing and validation of mobile robots. Thanks to its large size, it allows the testing of fast-paced motions, be it on the ground or in the air. The Flying Machine Arena offers ideal conditions to test novel concepts thanks to a high-precision localization system, high-performance radio links, easy-to-use software structure, and safety nets enclosing the space.

The Space

The Flying Machine Arena consists of a 10x10x10m³ indoor space, with an additional control room attached to it. Nets on three sides and a transparent reinforced glass wall create an enclosed volume where autonomous vehicles can operate without endangering the surrounding space. The floor of the space is covered in impact-absorbing foam, reducing the damage incurred during crashes.


The Flying Machine Arena is used in a range of projects carried out at the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control and other research laboratories.

A thin safety net can be installed at the bottom of the space for testing high-risk, high-speed maneuvers such as flips, etc. A typical “hard crash” in the FMA means simply retrieving the vehicle from the safety net and resetting it.

Quadrotor Vehicles

Most research in the Flying Machine Arena uses a fleet of quadrotor vehicles. These vehicles are based on the ‘Hummingbird’ quadrotor made by Ascending Technologies.

We have replaced the on-board controls by custom-made electronics developed at our institute. This allows greater control over the vehicle’s dynamics, faster motion, and the ability to develop controllers that directly control the vehicle motors.

Charging Platforms

The state of charge of the batteries in quadrotor vehicles is monitored, and vehicles can land on charging platforms and recharge the batteries without human intervention.

Motion Capture System

Eight cameras mounted on the ceiling above the space provide millimeter-accuracy localization information at 200Hz or greater for any retro-reflective markers in the space. We use a state-of-the-art commercial motion capture system from Vicon.

The unique vertical dimension of the Flying Machine Arena means that the normal procedure for calibrating the motion capture volume is no longer practical (after all, who wants to be seen walking around with a 10m calibration wand?). At the same time, the large baseline between the cameras and the large typical camera-object distances mean that even small camera pose changes lead to rapid localization degradation. To help with these issues we’ve developed an automated procedure where a quadrotor flies around the space, automatically calibrating the motion capture volume.


The extensive physical infrastructure and hardware is complemented by specialized support software tools and libraries. These include a modular, platform-independent process framework, standardized components, a unified communication scheme with logging and playback, a distributed parameter system, visualization tools and a common support library.

Source: ETH Zurich

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