Robot Hummingbird Hovers Biomimetically

A robot hummingbird has been prototyped from nature by bird-watching Purdue University researchers.


(Robot Hummingbird from Purdue University)

Purdue University researchers have engineered flying robots that behave like hummingbirds, trained by machine learning algorithms based on various techniques the bird uses naturally every day.

This means that after learning from a simulation, the robot “knows” how to move around on its own like a hummingbird would, such as discerning when to perform an escape maneuver.

Artificial intelligence, combined with flexible flapping wings, also allows the robot to teach itself new tricks. Even though the robot can’t see yet, for example, it senses by touching surfaces. Each touch alters an electrical current, which the researchers realized they could track.

“The robot can essentially create a map without seeing its surroundings. This could be helpful in a situation when the robot might be searching for victims in a dark place – and it means one less sensor to add when we do give the robot the ability to see,” said Xinyan Deng, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue.

Science fiction fans of course recall the scarab from Raymond Z. Gallun's 1936 short story of the same name; however, several other possible uses for these little drones also occur to me.

Jeff Noon, in his 2000 novel Nymphomation, describes the blurbfly:

Blurbflies are allowd to travel the streets, buzzing their adverts alive and direct to the punters.

Blurbs shall stand for Bio-Logical-Ultra-Robotic-Broadcasting-System.

I also have to give credit to Philip K. Dick, who in his 1964 novel The Simulacra describes a very tiny drone called a "commercial fly" which describes the next logical step for traffic advertising drones (TADs):

Something sizzled to the right of him. A commercial, made by Theodorus Nitz, the worst house of all, had attached itself to his car.

"Get off," he warned it...

He could, as it came through the crack, kill it. It was alive, terribly mortal: the ad agencies, like nature, squandered hordes of them.

The commercial, flysized, began to buzz out its message as soon as it managed to force entry. "Say! Haven't you sometimes said to yourself, I'll bet other people in restaurants can see me! And you're puzzled as to what to do about this serious, baffling problem of being conspicuous, especially-"

Chic crushed it with his foot.

For other robot hummingbird-related news (how many other sites can offer robot hummingbird-related news?) see Robotic Hummingbird Spy and Boeing A160 Hummingbird Has Whisper Mode.

Via Purdue.

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