Most flying robots, but not all, are small, so they can access hard-to-reach places. Some designed to emulate insects can be as tiny as real insects. Most flying robots use a helicopter-style design (three to 12 or more rotors) or emulate the movements of birds. Some bird-like designs glide. Others incorporate the much more difficult-to-achieve locomotion of flapping.
Flying robots can serve a wide variety of purposes. Many work in swarms, cooperating with one another to accomplish their tasks. Surveillance, reconnaissance, and search and rescue in military and first responder situations are popular applications for aerial robots.
Yet not all these robots are considered unmanned aerial vehicles. Some have been used to assemble architectural structures or perform agricultural duties such as crop dusting or pollination. Many are autonomous. Some are remote-controlled, and some are autonomous robots with real-time communication from remote pilots.
Click the image below for a slideshow of examples of these robots.
The Nano Air Vehicle, a DARPA-funded hummingbird-like demonstrator robot made by AeroVironment, flaps its wings to fly in any direction. The remote-controlled Nano can hover with precision like the real bird, and it can fly clockwise and counterclockwise. It weighs 19gm (0.67oz), including batteries, video camera, motors, and communications systems, and it has a wingspan of 16cm (6.3 inches). Its size and weight are within the range of real hummingbirds, and, like them, it uses its wings for control and propulsion. The Nano can hover continuously on its own power source for eight minutes. It can shift from hovering to a forward flight speed of 17.7kph (11mph). While hovering, the Nano can tolerate side wind gusts of up to 8kph (5mph) without losing more than 1m (3.28 feet) of altitude. (Source: AeroVironment)
This is a great compilation of images of some of the most ingenious flying robots that have been invented so far. I especially love the ones modeled after dragonflies and hummingbirds. They're almost as elegant as the natural beings they emulate. The RoboBee is incredibly clever as well; I can imagine a swarm of those being quite effectively used!
I like the dragonflies and hummingbirds, too. The hummingbird actually comes without the realistic outer shell, which is an option. But I think many people prefer the realistic ones that mimic their original inspiration.
Yes, good to have choice, but probably realism is best. I seem to remember some really beautiful artful-like flying robot that you wrote about (I can't recall the name nor the post) and I was suprised not to see it in the slideshow. It was one of the loveliest (if I can use that word!) flying robots I'd ever seen. Do you remember, Ann? Or maybe someone else wrote about it...
Ann thanks for the slideshow. All of them are amazing and I personally like ebee, dragonfly and hummingbird robots. It would be an amazing experience if we can attach those robots on our back and fly like bird.
AnandY, interesting idea, but they've all been designed to be as light as possible, and couldn't carry our weight, That said, there are efforts by some of these folks to give humans flying suits. Check out the video here: http://raffaello.name/dynamic-works/actuated-wingsuits
Nadine, I agree--still slides of these machines don't tell the whole story. But if you go to YouTube and enter "Robo Raven", you'll find at least one recent video showing its moves, and also being attacked by a hawk.
Pubudu, I think you're asking if RoboBee weighs 80 mg including its camera and comm system, correct? It does seem insanely lightweight, but that's what the team's video and accompanying text posted here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=b9FDkJZCMuE#at=16 and here: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/340/6132/603.abstract?sid=74040285-fcde-418a-9a07-b727380cc7e0
Pubudu, you're welcome. I wrote a previous article on RoboBee: the link is given in the Related posts list at the end of this article. That prior article states that the RoboBee is currently powered and communicated with via its tether. We also state that this is a prototype, and the next step will be to make it un-tethered.
To me, the 2013 penny feels like it's made out of a different, lighter material. The first time I held one, I thought it was a fake. I couldn't find anything online, however, that indicates it's made of different material.
FYI, autonomous vehicles are exactly that - they have the resources to carry out their assigned mission without any intervention from remotely-located pilots. Remotely-piloted vehicles are another class, altogether.
There are varying definitions of what makes a robot autonomous. Some flying or ground robots can carry out missions autonomously, according to yars' definition, but also have communication with a remote pilot. The point of that link is so the pilot can decide to tell the robot to do other things once the pilot has examined video sent back by the robot. This combination capability is often used in military applications.
As far as the FAA is concerned.. there are no differences (remote or autonomous).
Unmanned is the only category involved .. don't care if autonomous or remotely controlled per their latest rulings. Smallest RC aircraft to military drones are covered.
The only other condition they currently address: for profit or hobby.
Currently ANY commercial use of unmanned flying craft is illegal.. don't care about size, method of control, flight altitudes, etc.. .
Want to monitor your crops? illegal (except as a hobby)
Want an aerial photo of your home for purpose of selling the house? illegal.
At present, only hobbyist and researchers have some legal basis for use of unmanned flying craft. Not the police , not the military, not Hollywood film crews, etc.. are allowed unless by special permission via the FAA.
They (the FAA) have their hands full at the moment trying to develop some legal framework for reasonable uses and liabilities.
Thanks for all the info, Thinking_J. The FAA rules angle is an interesting one. Usually, when it comes to definitions we're talking robotics theory, not FAA flight rules. And--you are a Zappa fan! Yay! I came of age on Freak Out.
Great article and slides. The field of robotics has definitely progress into the realm of science fiction or maybe its the other way. LOL. Looking at these magnificient machines its hard to believe they can achieve flight. The question of FAA flight rules is very intriguing because of the airspace restrictions imposed by this air traffic governing agency. Just wondering what would the restrictions be imposed upon flying robots? Again, enjoy reading your robot articles!
mrdon, thank for the enthusiastic response. I think it's your second suggestion: those of us who've been reading science fiction for years while technology has been progressing to the point where we can actualize what we've been visualizing. I think this is true in robotics, in consumer electronics, and in film (Lord of the Rings, Avatar, e.g.).
Thanks for the slideshow Ann, these robots all seem pretty amazing, with quite different flight styles in almost all of them. As we discussed before, in the robobee article that in this robotics field the dynamics of the the flying body against different airy environments is pretty complex to control, specially in a flapping wing robot, it feels quite good to see such projects working and developing more.
taimoortariq, I agree that flying robots are tough to design properly. Robots that must swim are probably at least as tough to design, for somewhat different reasons, as commenters have pointed out in discussions on our nautical robot articles and slideshows.
Ann, on my vaction trip this year I had another idea as to a very good use for a video-sending hovering-type airborn robot. Many of our national parks put limitations on where you can walk to see all of the wonderful things that are there. Some of the best viewing spots are unsafe, some would be quickly damaged by pedestrian traffic. An airborn camera could allow one to see these places form some very interesting vantage points without doing any damage or being in any danger. Rental odf those devices for use in the parks could be a source of additional revenue. So there is another idea for another use of the "flying spying machines."
No doubt this is an excellent article, As we know technology is expanding at a very rapid rate robots are becomming common .Initially work was done on robotic technology on a very low level but now researchers and students of engineering universities are taking too much interest in robotic development . Nodoubt Robotic bee and Bionic opter is an example of human creativity i really liked the idea and this shows where human minds can go in terms of development .
I have heard that some researchers of Stanfford University have developed a Robot that jump and glides like a fish . Spring made of carbon fibres are created that are used during take off .This robot cant jump as high as other flying robots but its jump can cover a large horizontal distance . Initially it was created as an unmanned robot but there are certain issues which it is facing in its autonomy .
Mind controlled Robot is the new technology that is comming up .The question is how it can work ? people were asked to wear a cap consisting of 64 sensors and think they have to move towards right, left or straight thoughts that triggered neuons were captured and programmed in the robot in this way in future robots will be moving just with mind control other than moving your hands, body and so on .
Deberah, I agree that mind-controlled robots is an interesting development in robotics. There are different research efforts underway; we covered one of them here: http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=254726
I am absolutely amazed at the rapid pace of this technology. The devices themselves plus the ability to control and maneuver seem to improve every time I read a report. It's also becoming apparent there are more and more research facilities involved with development. You Ann have indicated over the recent months uses that make the developments relevant and newsworthy. Great post. I really appreciate you keeping us up to date.
Thanks for your feedback, bobjengr. It's comments like yours that inspire me to find even weirder, more talented robots :) No sarcasm implied, I really mean it. And yes, it's tough to keep up with all this: the pace of change is mind-boggling, and reminds me of several earlier, similar phases in Silicon Valley when enough brilliant minds and research dollars, plus the right levels of underlying enabling technologies converged to produce world-changing products. You know, like the iPhone and Web browsers.
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If you didn't realize that PowerPoint presentations are inherently hilarious, you have to see Don McMillan take one apart. McMillan -- aka the Technically Funny Comic -- worked for 10 years as an engineer before he switched to stand-up comedy.
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Noting that we now live in an era of “confusion and ill-conceived stuff,” Ammunition design studio founder Robert Brunner, speaking at Gigaom Roadmap, said that by adding connectivity to everything and its mother, we aren't necessarily doing ourselves any favors, with many ‘things’ just fine in their unconnected state.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.