Publiée le 07/04/11 à 11h13

Licence Creative Commons CC-By-NC

One of the major challenges in robotics is to develop fly- sized robots that can autonomously fly around in unknown environments. The challenge derives from the fact that flying locomotion requires the robot to continuously react to its environment in real time, while the light weight of the robot significantly limits the energy, sensors, and processing onboard.
Essentially, there are two main approaches to creating fly- like robots: bottom-up and top-down. In the bottom-up approach, one starts by creating all the tiny parts that are deemed important to a fly-sized ornithopter. The most remarkable example of this approach is the 60 mg robotic insect developed at Harvard University, which can produce sufficient thrust to take off vertically. This is achieved by using Smart Composite Microstructures (SCM). The robotic insect was still fixed to taut guide wires that restricted the robot to vertical motion and provided both energy and control. In future work, the group plans to allow all degrees of freedom and to incorporate onboard energy supply, sensors, and processing.
In the top-down approach, one starts with a fully functioning (relatively large-scale) ornithopter. By studying this ornithopter, theoretical insights can be gained into the necessary properties for a smaller version. Research then progresses by creating and analyzing ever smaller systems, while always maintaining a fully functioning flying robot. One advantage of this approach is that it allows interplay between theory and practice. Especially in the field of artificial intelligence, having a physical and fully functioning robot is of great value: real-world tests force the experimenters to take into account all aspects of the robotic system. In addition, they reveal physical properties of the system that can be exploited by the algorithms.
In this extended abstract, we discuss the current state of our research on aerodynamics and autonomy