Researchers from MIT and other universities have succeeded in developing a drone that can stay in the sky after a hit, similar to insects. The drone uses a tiny rubber actuator to flap its wings instead of a motor used by most consumer and commercial drones.
The drone project is led by MIT Assistant Professor Kevin Yufeng Chen and co-authored with MIT PhD student Zhijian Ren, PhD student Siyi Xu from Harvard University and robotics Pakpong Chirarattananon from City University of Hong Kong.
The drone is best described by MIT itself. “If you’ve ever knocked a mosquito off your face just to bring it back (and over and over), you know that insects can be remarkably acrobatic and resilient in flight.”
This extreme resilience allows mosquitoes and other insects to navigate their environment without being injured or even dying. This also prompted Chen to develop the new drone, which was inspired by nature.
“If we look at most of the drones today, they are usually quite large. Most of its uses involve flying in the open air. The question is: can you make insect-scale robots that can move around in very complex, crowded spaces? “
The drone uses a rubber actuator coated with a layer of carbon nanotubes that react when a voltage is applied to them. This reaction to the voltage can compress the actuator. If you repeat this, the wings will flap in a manner similar to that of an insect. The actuators developed by Chen can flutter at about 500 times per second.
While this type of drone is still in its early stages and has a few things to iron out, the applications are already making themselves felt. Because of its size, the drone could help pollinate flowers and even perform interior inspections in a confined space.
Farrell Helbling, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Cornell University, added:
“Achieving a flight within a centimeter with a robot is always an impressive achievement. Due to the inherent compliance of the soft actuators, the robot can safely encounter obstacles without severely hindering the flight. This feature works well for flight in crowded, dynamic environments and can be very useful for any number of real world applications. I’m curious to see how the authors will reduce the operating voltage so that one day they can achieve a flight without cables in real-world environments. “
Researchers are also doing more epic things with drones, from quantum networks to preventing drones from falling from the sky.
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