Hummingbird-inspired Drone can Fly like the Real Thing

Robotics

Researchers at Purdue University successfully created a hummingbird-inspired drone that can hover and make sharp turns as it flies using algorithms trained on the birds' natural flight patterns / Photo by: Pslawinski via Wikimedia Commons

 

Researchers at Purdue University successfully created a hummingbird-inspired drone that can hover and make sharp turns as it flies using algorithms trained on the birds' natural flight patterns.

The Purdue drone's features are similar to that of a real-life hummingbird with its wingspan of 17 centimeters and weight of 12 grams. New Atlas says the drone can also lift over twice its own weight, up to 27 grams.

The drone is wrapped in a 3D-printed body equipped with a pair of wings made of carbon fiber and membranes, which flaps at frequencies reaching 40 Hz.

Moreover, the small robot can also fly like a real hummingbird, which is pretty impressive for a robot since hummingbirds can execute some of the most jaw-dropping aerial stunts known to bird-kind, which includes hovering and turning a complete 180 degrees in just 0.2 seconds.

These maneuvers are observed in living hummingbirds and the Purdue researchers developed algorithms based on this observation, according to New Atlas. It adds that the researchers compiled these algorithms into a realistic computer simulation of the bird's behavior. Results of the simulation are then used on the robots to fly.

Although these hummingbird-inspired drones won't actually be the fastest or farthest fliers, their enhanced navigation and relatively smaller size show their capacity of moving through spaces that other robots wouldn't be able to fit into.

One such instance is to send the drone into a collapsed building in the aftermath of a disaster to help look for survivors or assess the damage. It can do so with its electrical sense of touch and AI algorithms that can analyze those touches, allowing navigation even in the dark, even though the robot is not equipped with cameras.

Before equipping the robot more sensors, the team said it still needs a boost in its lifting capabilities. Putting in cameras, GPS, and other sensors may serve beneficial in future versions and batteries would let the drone fly freely.

Another advantage of this small robot is that it can fly silently and can easily handle turbulence. The Purdue team also devised a version that's more similar to the size of insects and weighs only just a gram.