Flying Robots

Flying around the room can be a hazardous business, to which anyone who has stepped out of the shower to find that they are sharing their bathroom with a cockchafer will attest. That is just one of the delights of Europe which has become rare in recent years, although now that the pesticides are getting closer to being under control, their numbers are starting to recover.

Insects, like cockchafers, flies and ladybirds fly around at quite high speeds with eyesight that has a short range. They lack the sophisticated sensors and complex fast algorithms that we endeavor to build into our flying robots, note that is robots not drones so they have to fend for themselves. The result is that insects have a high collision frequency, albeit mitigated by rapid deceleration just prior to impact.

Now, Klaptocz et al from Lausanne have decided to try the bug approach to the bugbear of robotic flying – it’s a sort of crash and bounce philosophy so that the robot can pick itself up, dust itself off and start over just as the cockchafer does. They have a video on Phys.Org (1) and have a full paper in the IEEE Trans. Robotics (2).

Insects have a light, bouncy, robust exo-skeleton with legs and things to get them back to an even keel. This is the approach that the Lausanne group have taken. They have framed a rotorcraft-flying robot with a light carbon fiber cage and an artificial leg with which it can poke itself upright after an inadvertent collision with a wall or window. (It is unlikely to find itself in a bathroom, so you may step out of your Swiss shower with a modicum of confidence that it won’t think it’s a cockchafer.)

Before we dismiss this research direction as odd, think about many of the situations where you might want a robot hunting you down. A cave or mine accident would have very poor light conditions, as might part of a collapsed building, so flying robots that can bounce back, keep calm and carry on would be the way to go.


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