Hummingbird Robots 1, Drones 0 2022

Hummingbird Robots: Engineers have just created a bird boat that can fly better than unmanned aerial vehicles. Purdue engineers have built a flying robot to mimic one of the natural world’s most adept fliers: the hummingbird.

Drones aspire to fly with the agility and grace of the biological family Trochilidae, which includes all 357 species of hummingbirds. Boasting the flying abilities of birds and the hovering abilities of insects, they represent a part of the flight philosophies that scientists are eager to unravel. Hummingbirds can be advanced for search-and-rescue drones, commercial filming robots, military use, and any other flying project that is characterized by rapid, unpredictable stops and starts.

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Purdue engineers trained their robot with algorithms based on a variety of techniques that hummingbirds from the Andes to the Americas use every day. After undergoing training, the robot understands when to stop and when to fly. Even more impressive? A robot cannot actually see. It senses touching surfaces, changing the electrical current with each touch.

A robotic hummingbird encased in a decorative shell was meant to be its flesh-and-blood counterpart. “The robot can essentially map its surroundings without looking. This can be helpful in situations where the robot is searching for victims in a dark placeā€”and that means when we can’t see the robot. “There is one less sensor to add when providing the capability,” says Xinyan Deng, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue, in a press statement.

Deng and his team developed the project over several years, spending several summers in Montana documenting the state’s many species. They studied the way hummingbirds seemingly defy conventional aerodynamics, performing maneuvers that current drones would find impossible due to their size limitations.

“The physics are just different; the aerodynamics are inherently unstable, with high angles of attack and high lift. This makes small, flying animals possible, and it would have been possible for us to reduce flapping-wing robots.” is,” says Deng.

Studying hummingbirds has been beneficial. Using stronger materials, Deng and his team created robots smaller than birds without compromising their flight. The tiny planes have 3D-printed bodies with carbon fiber and laser-cut membranes on the wings. The hummingbird robot weighs 12 grams, about the size of an average adult Rivoli’s hummingbird, a common species in the United States.

While scientists used birds as an inspiration, bots can also deviate from biology. “A real hummingbird has multiple muscle groups for power and steering strokes, but a robot has to be as light as possible, so you can maximize performance with minimal weight,” says Deng,” says Deng.

Right now the robot has some limitations. Although they require only two motors and can control each wing independently of the other, they have no independent power source and their flight is tethered. Cutting the cord for permitted extended flight is the next step in the plan.

Animals have long been an inspiration for technology, beginning with Leonardo da Vinci’s study of birds and how they fly. Other animal inspiration came from caterpillars, fish, and spiders. Meanwhile, scientists are still working on creating a robot that can fight ants.


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