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Nature inspires drones of the future

Researchers have been taking tips from nature to build the next generation of flying robots.

Based on the mechanisms adopted by birds, bats, insects and snakes, 14 distinguished research teams have developed solutions to some of the common problems that drones could be faced with when navigating through an urban environment and performing novel tasks for the benefit of society.

Whether this is avoiding obstacles, picking up and delivering items or improving the take-off and landing on tricky surfaces, it is hoped the solutions can lead to the deployment of drones in complex urban environments in a number of different ways, from military surveillance and search and rescue efforts to flying camera phones and reliable courier services. For this, drones need exquisite flight control.

The research teams have presented their work today, 23 May, in a special issue of IOP Publishing's journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, devoted to bio-inspired flight control.

The first small drones have already been used in search and rescue operations to investigate difficult-to-reach and hazardous areas, such as in Fukushima, Japan. A research team from Hungary believe these efforts could be improved if robots are able to work in tandem, and have developed an algorithm that allows a number of drones to fly together like a flock of birds.

The effectiveness of the algorithm was demonstrated by using it to direct the movements of a flock of nine individual quadcopters whilst they followed a moving car.

While this collective movement may be helpful when searching vast expanses of land, a group of researchers from Harvard University have developed a millimetre-sized drone with a view to using it to explore extremely cramped and tight spaces.

The microrobot they designed, which was the size of a one cent coin, could take off and land and hover in the air for sustained periods of time. In their new paper, the res

Contact: Michael Bishop
Institute of Physics

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