Artificial Intelligence has elevated to a higher level with the newest discovery of flying robots, trained via machine learning algorithms. The flying robots come in the design of a hummingbird and functions like a drone with additional features. Invented by a research team at Purdue University, the drone has several bird-like techniques, flapping wings for instance. Unlike a drone, this AI discovery allows the machine to access collapsed buildings or to even through wreckages to locate and help trapped victims. Unlike drones, which cannot be made smaller, since they won’t be able to lift, these flying robots have changed the way conventional aerodynamics function. The birds operate on a simple logic in physics, their wings are resilient and researchers have created this so that they can fly to areas inaccessible to larger aircraft and drones.
The research team also sheds light on the machine’s various sensory features. Although the robot cannot see yet, its highly perceptive sensors are activated via electrical currents as soon as it touches surfaces. Similar to birds, the flying robot “knows” how to move around on its own. Xinyan Deng, one of the leading members of the research is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University. In her statement regarding the invention, she said, “The robot can essentially create a map without seeing its surroundings. This could be helpful a situation when the robot might be searching for victims in a dark place – and it means one less sensor to add when we do give the robot the ability to see.”
She and her team conducted research into the maneuvers of hummingbird and created computer algorithms. These algorithms were inbuilt in the robot when it was fastened to a simulation. Earlier researchers have conducted robotic hummingbirds with helicopter-like flight controls, but they were too heavy to fly. The research conducted by Purdue University was hence a breakthrough since it was smaller in size and had a greater wing flapping frequency. They are smaller in size than actual hummingbirds and even smaller than insects, which enabled them a more efficient flight.
The flying robots have 3D- printed bodies and their wings are made of carbon fiber and laser-cut membranes. The weight of the bird robot is about 12 grams and an insect-sized robot weighs 1 gram, which is equivalent to their original sizes. The flying hummingbird can lift up to 27 grams of weight. “An actual hummingbird has multiple groups of muscles to do power and steering strokes, but a robot should be as light as possible so that you have a maximum performance on minimal weight,” Deng said.
The research team is working on making a few adjustments to the existing model. Currently, the robot is tethered to an energy source during flight. The team is experimenting on adding battery and sensing technology. Scientists are working on the idea of making them efficiently similar to real hummingbirds. Future research involves enabling them for covert operations which will also allow the machines to fly steadily through turbulence. The research was conducted by testing scaled wings in an oil tank.
The research of the Purdue team will be presented at 2019 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation Montreal on May 20. The study is bound to help in search-and-rescue missions and will also prove beneficial to biologists to study mechanisms of hummingbirds more reliably.