Robot Hummingbird Imitates Nature

Purdue’s Bio-Robotics lab has been working on a robotic hummingbird and, as you can see in the videos below, have had a lot of success. What’s more, is they’ve shared that success on GitHub. If you want to make a flapping-winged robot, this is definitely where you start.

If you’ve ever watched a hummingbird, you know their flight capability is nothing short of spectacular. The Purdue robot flies in a similar fashion (although on a tether to get both power and control information) and relies on each wing having its own motor. The motors not only propel the wings but also act as sensors. For example, they can detect if a wing is damaged, has made contact with something, or has changed performance due to atmospheric conditions.

In addition to the tethered control system, the hummingbird requires a motion capture sensor external to itself and some machine learning. Researchers note that there is sufficient payload capacity to put batteries onboard and they would also need additional sensors to accomplish totally free flight. It is amazing when you realize that a real hummingbird manages all this with a little bitty brain.

The published code is in Python and is part of three presentations later this month at a technical conference (the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation).  If you don’t want to wait on the paper, there’s a post on IEEE Spectrum about the robotic beast, available now and that article contains preprint versions of the papers. The Python code does require a bit to run, so expect a significant flight computer.

The last hummingbird bot we saw was a spy. We’ve also seen robots that were like bees — sort of.

Continue reading “Robot Hummingbird Imitates Nature”

Hummingbirds, 3D Printing, and Deep Learning

Setting camera traps in your garden to see what local wildlife is around is quite popular. But [Chris Lam] has just one subject in mind: the hummingbird. He devised a custom setup to capture the footage he wanted using some neat tech.

To attract the hummingbirds, [Chris] used an off-the-shelf feeder — no need to re-invent the wheel there. To obtain the closeup footage required, a 4K action cam was used. This was attached to the feeder with a 3D-printed mount that [Chris] designed.

When it came to detecting the presence of a hummingbird in the video, there were various approaches that could have been considered. On the hardware side, PIR and ultrasonic distance sensors are popular for projects of this kind, but [Chris] wanted a pure software solution. The commonly used motion detection libraries for this type of project might have fallen over here, since the whole feeder was swinging in the air on a string, so [Chris] opted for machine learning.

A RESNET architecture was used to run a classification on each frame, to determine if the image contained a hummingbird or not. The initial attempt was not greatly successful, but after cropping the image to a smaller area around the feeder, classification accuracy greatly increased. After a bit of FFmpeg magic, the selected snippets were concatenated to make one video containing all the interesting parts; you can see the result in the clip after the break.

It seems that machine learning and wildlife cams are a match made in heaven. We’ve already written about a proof-of-concept project which identifies different animals in the footage when motion is detected.

Continue reading “Hummingbirds, 3D Printing, and Deep Learning”

DARPA’s hummingbird spybot

Nope, this isn’t some extravagant fishing lure, it’s the US Government’s newest way to spy on its people enemies. The hummingbird bot has no problems flying like an actual hummingbird while recording video. It was developed by a company called Aerovironment as part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract. Of course details are scarce, but you can see the device flying around while broadcasting its video feed after the break. Sure, it’s making much more noise than you would expect from an actual hummingbird, but this is just the version that they’re shown off publicly, right?

It has certainly come a long way since the company was awarded the contract few years back. We assume that the hummingbird is the realization of research efforts pumped into their ornithopter project. Those proofs of concept from 2009 on what was called Project Mercury showed off a winged flyer in a controlled environment. To see this year’s model flying out in the open is pretty neat.

Continue reading “DARPA’s hummingbird spybot”