Adam Klaptocz, a doctoral student working on the project, says that the inspiration for their designs came from nature. They looked to insects, which are adept at avoiding most obstacles, but still easily recover if they do, in fact, crash into an object.
“We build robots that are better adapted to the real world, not just the lab environment,” says Klaptocz.
The applications for this robust robot are many, according to Klaptocz. The robot is ideal for exploring areas with no light and lots of obstacles, including exploration of dangerous, hard-to-reach collapsed mines, dark caves, and irradiated nuclear plants.
The latest incarnation, the AirBurr, uses optic-flow based algorithms resembling those used by insects. The robot’s sensitive parts—propellers and processors—are protected by a carbon fiber cage. It also has carbon fiber legs that extend after a fall to pick the robot up again. Klaptocz and his team accomplished this by fiddling with the dimensions to give it the right force to stand up again without changing the center of gravity. Using carbon fiber to build the active recovery system keeps the design lightweight, so that the robot can still easily re-launch itself.
While the basic engineering is the same, the robot comes in many iterations including the “Samurai,” allowing it to return to an upright position and take off after a collision, no matter how it lands on the ground; “Sticky,” with gecko-inspired dry adhesive to attach to smooth surfaces; “Bumpy,” which has a sense of touch; and “Hove Mouse,” which has a gravity-based self-recovery system to allow it to return to takeoff position after collisions.
Next up for the lab: Flying robots with folding wings that can roll on the ground, using audio and sonar like bats for detecting other airborne robots. After that? Flying robots that can break into pieces, fit back together again, then resume their flight path.