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Robot Fly

Published by under News,Robotics categories on March 12, 2008

Robot fly photoHavard researchers from the Microrobotics Laboratory are used to flying insect robots like a protoype of fly robot which has a wingspan of 3 centimeters and weights 60 milligrams, not including a battery and sensors.

The insectlike robots are intended to perform rescue and reconnaissance operations with equal ease. Once they can be fitted with onboard sensors, flight controls, and batteries, they will be freed from their tethers to the lab bench to nimbly flit around obstacles and into places beyond human reach.

This is a very different approach, in which emergency personnel disperse thousands of paper clip–size flying robots throughout a disaster zone. The tiny machines would detect signs of life, perhaps by sniffing the carbon dioxide of survivors’ breath or detecting the warmth of their bodies. Though some flies might smash into windows or get stuck in corners, others would slip through cracks and under fallen crossbeams. Perhaps only three members of the swarm make their way to the survivors, where they perch and expend their remaining energy broadcasting their findings to rescue workers. They may have onboard radio-frequency transmitters to communicate short, low-bandwidth chirps, to be picked up by receivers installed around the perimeter of the site. Even if 99 percent of the robots are lost, the search mission would still be a success.

Robot sizeDesigning a robotic insect is more complicated than simply shrinking a model airplane, however, because the aerodynamics that govern flight are entirely different on the scale of insects. The basics of insect-flight aerodynamics in different patterns of airflow first became clear in 1999, when Michael Dickinson, a biologist then at Berkeley and now at Caltech, built a 25‑centimeter replica of a fly’s wing and simulated the viscosity of air on a small scale by submerging the wing in a vat of mineral oil. It turns out that insects use three different wing motions to create and control the air vortices needed to generate lift.

There are other vast applications of insect robots within space-exploring, battlefields, transportation/communication industry etc, where they will become our tiny explorers/assistants.


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