These next-gen, insect-sized drones are each nimble & sturdy | by Faisal Khan | Technicity | Mar, 2021


Photo credit: MIT News


The technology enables agile robots to work in confined spaces and withstand collisions

How We’ll dig deeper into robotics research, it comes in all shapes and sizes. But then you have to deal with limitations of those sizes – too big and maneuverability is a problem, make them too small and they are not sturdy enough to withstand large obstacles. Even so, they are all useful in their own capacity. An example of these two sizes was reported by me last year, with the first being a giant shape-changing robot and the other being the smallest microelectronic robot in the world.

Based on tIn this way, researchers from MIT, Harvard University and the City University of Hong Kong have now jointly developed an insect-sized robot that not only exhibits acrobatic agility and resilience in flight, but also withstands physical hurdles such as gusts of wind, obstacles and stress. other uncertainties. Combining all of these properties to make flying robots has been a major challenge that this team has mastered so far.

The small flying robot developed by the multidisciplinary team shows groundbreaking agility and resilience. According to the press release, the microbot weighs only 0.6 grams, which is roughly the mass of a large bumblebee. When visualizing the insect-sized drone, it looks like a tiny cassette with wings – the researchers are currently working on a new prototype in the form of a dragonfly.

“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? “

~ Kevin Yufeng Chen, lead researcher

Looking at the specifics of the drone, it is powered by a new class of soft actuators that can flutter nearly 500 times per second, giving the drone an insect-like resilience. In addition, they give the drone the ability to overcome the harshness of the obstacles in the physical world. By building these drones, researchers have overcome the challenge of building small flying robots.

The new actuator used in the novel design is a huge improvement over the traditional small, rigid actuators made from piezoelectric ceramic materials. While these ceramic-based actuators enabled the development of the first generation robots, their main drawback was fragility – a problem when trying to mimic a bumblebee-style robot, considering they collide about once every second.

Soft actuators consist of thin rubber cylinders coated with carbon nanotubes. The electrostatic force, which is generated by applying a voltage to the carbon nanotubes, causes the blanket cylinder to be compressed and stretched. This repeated movement causes the drone’s wings to flap quickly.

Colleagues reviewing the research have praised the team’s efforts to achieve centimeter-level flight with a robot. However, they believe mainstream application would depend on how the team can disconnect the robots from a wired power source – a power requirement for the high operating voltage of the actuators.

Researchers believe the newly developed drones can help people in the future by pollinating plants or performing machine inspections in confined spaces. Complete Research is expected to be published in the Journal of IEEE Transactions on Robotics later this month.

Stay informed of the content that matters – Join my mailing list