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)
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.
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.
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."