Tiny Robot Clings To Leaves With Static Electricity

Flying is an energy-intensive activity. The birds and the bees don’t hover around incessantly like your little sister’s quadcopter. They flit to and fro, perching on branches and leaves while they plan their next move. Sure, a quadcopter can land on the ground, but then it has to spend more energy getting back to altitude. Researchers at Harvard decided to try to develop flying robots that can perch on various surfaces like insects can.

Perching on surfaces happens electrostatically. The team used an electrode patch with a foam mounting to the robot. This allows the patch to make contact with surfaces easily even if the approach is a few degrees off. This is particularly important for a tiny robot that is easily affected by even the slightest air draft. The robots were designed to be as light as possible — just 84mg — as the electrostatic force is not particularly strong.

It’s estimated that perching electrostatically for a robot of this size uses approximately 1000 times less power than during flight. This would be of great use for surveillance robots that could take up a vantage point at altitude without having to continually expend a great deal of energy to stay airborne. The abstract of the research paper notes that this method of perching was successful on wood, glass, and a leaf. It appears testing was done with tethers; it would be interesting to see if this technique would be powerful enough for a robot that carries its own power source. Makes us wonder if we ever ended up with tiny flyers that recharge from power lines?

We’re seeing more tiny flying robots every day now – the IMAV 2016 competition was a great example of the current state of the art.

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Why the Wright Brothers Succeeded

The types of steps and missteps the Wright brothers took in developing the first practical airplane should be familiar to hackers. They started with a simple kite design and painstakingly added only a few features at a time, testing each, and discarding some. The airfoil data they had was wrong and they had to make their own wind tunnel to produce their own data. Unable to find motor manufacturers willing to do a one-off to their specifications, they had to make their own.

Sound familiar? Here’s a trip through the Wright brothers development of the first practical airplane.

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Being Picked up by a Swarm of Drones May Become Reality

In case you haven’t seen it yet, this video has been taking the internet by storm. The YouTube user [Gasturbine101] has successfully taken flight in his home made multi-rotor flying machine.

It’s a massive array of high powered brushless motors with props, fifty-four in fact, all counter-rotating. It has a weight of 148kg (we assume this includes the inventor), and produces a maximum lift of 164kg. Apparently it’ll even last for about 10 minutes. The props are grouped into six, using Hobbyking stabilizers to balance the flight.

He calls it the Swarm.

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Mechanical Bird Actually Flies by Flapping its Wings

Turns out you don’t have to be a multi-million dollar corporation like Festo to create a remote controlled, flapping bird robot. [Kazuhiko Kakuta] is a medical Doctor of Allergy, and in his free time he likes to build flying mechanical birds with his son.

It has just over a meter wingspan, weighs 193 grams, and it flies by flapping its wings. The majority of its components are 3D printed. If that’s not impressive enough for you as is, consider this. It it has no sensors, no gyroscopes or anything — it’s all manually controlled by [Kazuhiko].

And this isn’t even the only ornithopter he’s done. He’s also created something out of an anime film, Castle in the Sky. He even sells the designs for one of them, to be printed via Shapeways.

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How to properly fly with electronics

Some electronics professionals have to fly relatively frequently. One such person, [Steve Hoefer] shares with us how to properly fly with your exposed wires and bits without getting nabbed by the TSA for suspicion of being a terrorist. The article is fairly in depth with tips on how to handle most situations including being pulled aside and put in a tiny room for questioning. Most of it boils down to the fact that you can’t expect the TSA agents to be experts in everything. They see stuff that is slightly out of the norm, they have to follow up. We’re not talking about pat-downs and body scanners here, we’re talking about circuit boards, duct tape, and battery packs.

One story [Steve] shares is especially humorous. He noted that the servos had been disconnected from one of his robots. He wonders, why disconnect them? If they were suspected of being an explosive, they shouldn’t have messed with them. If they weren’t… why did they un-plug them?

Ollie the socially awkward autonomous blimp

[Pritika] is a user experience design student who just finished up an autonomous blimp project designed to react to voices and communicate, “his friendliness and eagerness to be noticed.”

The instructable [Pritika] posted goes through the build – a 850mAh LiPo battery powers an Arduino Pro Mini, which controls two 3.6 gram servos. While not much in the way of electronics, the real beauty behind this build is the implementation. From watching the video of Ollie interacting with people, we’re pretty sure [Pritika] met her objective of making her pet blimp friendly and unobtrusive.

With quadrocopters getting so much attention as of late, it’s interesting to see development in lighter-than-air robotics. Our back of the envelope math (which is almost certainly wrong) tells us that Ollie’s ‘body’ can lift 60 grams when filled with Helium, and double that with Hydrogen. While this isn’t much lifting capacity, it’s not inconceivable that a slightly larger blimp could have more sensors or a live video feed, especially considering the 16 gram ornithopter we covered last year.

Check out a video of Ollie after the jump.

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Fly like Superman using The Force

infinity_simulator

At one point or another, who hasn’t had a dream in which you could fly, simply by thinking about it? [Yehuda Duenyas, aka XXXY] is currently working on a project at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute which can allow you to do just that.

As part of a thesis project dubbed the “Infinity Simulator“, he has constructed a system that allows people to fly about using the elaborate rigging system at RPI’s Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. His project allows users to glide through the air, walk up walls, and otherwise live out their flying fantasies, with mere thoughts.

An EEG headset is placed on the user, along with other wearable sensors which enhance the audio and visual experience of the person in flight. With enough concentration, the rigging system sweeps people off their feet, sending them soaring anywhere their mind desires. It sounds a bit like pretending to be Superman while using The Force to us, however the installation is described on the EMPAC web site as a “live-action stunt show crossed with a video game.” Either way, sign us up!

Hopefully we will see some video of the completed project in the near future, but in the meantime keep reading to see a behind-the-scenes preview of the flying rig in action.

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