Insect-sized drones were developed by Chen one of the members of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Research Laboratory of Electronics. These drones showed a performance that has been never seen before and they could recover fastly from any form of difficulties. These drones are also known as aerial robots and are powered by a soft-based actuator that helps them from the physical travails faced during real-world flight.
The thought that led to the discovery
Usually, most of the drones require large spaces because they are not good enough to navigate through confined spaces and are not robust enough to save from the collisions in the crowd. Chen said that most of the drones today are big and their applications involve navigating outdoors. So he arose the question of whether could we develop insect-sized aerial robots which could move in complex and cramped spaces?
Challenges and the Alternatives chosen
Chen said that there are many challenges involved in making up aerial robots. These tiny robots involve an entirely different construction compared to that of the larger-sized ones. Most of the large drones are powered using motors. While when shrinking them it was seen that they lose a great deal of efficiency. So there was a need to look for different alternatives to develop these tiny and agile drones.
One of the primary alternatives chosen was to make use of a very tiny and rigid actuator developed from piezoelectric ceramic materials. These materials allowed the robots to take flight but they were fragile. And that was the major problem while building up the insect-sized drones as they have to face collision every second of time.
Then Chen designed a better resilient drone that makes use of soft actuators rather than using fragile and hard ones. These soft actuators are made up of very thin type rubber cylinders which were coated using carbon nanotubes. Once the voltage is applied to the nanotubes an electrostatic force is being produced which squeeze out and elongates the rubber cylinders. This repeated form of contraction and elongation would make the insect drones fly.
Features of the tiny and agile drones
- The actuators of the drone flap 500 times for every second and provide better resilience.
- It can recover from every hit during its flight.
- Could perform aggressive forms of maneuvers.
- It weighs 0.6 grams resembling the weight of a bumblebee.
- The insect-sized drone looks like a small cassette that is taped with wings. But Chen is trying for a better prototype that looks like a dragonfly.
Some of the applications of the tiny and agile drone developed by Chen are:
- Aiding the humans in pollinating crops thus benefiting the agriculture industry.
- Performing machine inspections in restricted spaces. Through this, it helps in inspecting the machines like turbine engines to check for its cracks.
- Helps in rescue and search missions during a disaster.
Lastly, the insect-sized drone developed by Chen could be useful for many other potential industrial applications.