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Eyes in the sky: Micro-drones and flying robots

Forget about the model or miniature planes and kites you used to fly decades ago with your childhood friends simply for fun. Today’s miniature planes and kites have morphed into micro-drones or micro flying robots, equipped with micro mechanisms, enhanced aerodynamics capabilities and monitoring equipment to assist in aerial reconnaissance missions. The basic anatomy of these new models are mostly inspired by flies, birds and bees, small and light, winged or propelled and vaguely comparable to the older models. Needless, to say, the fun has shifted to the “big boys”.

At the Harvard and Middlesex universities and the L’École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, to name a few, the level of research interest in drones gives credence to the notion that micro-flying robots are now of high priority. Here, they explore not only questions in micro-mechanics, actuation, fluid and control, but also on how these unmanned aerial vehicles could serve social, military, environmental monitoring purposes and search-and-rescue operations.

RoboBee – the world’s smallest flying robot

flying robots

Source: Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory.

The biologically-inspired flapping-wing drone developed at the Harvard Microrobotics laboratory is a called RoboBees. It weighs as little as 60mg and has a body not much wider than a cent. The fine line between weight and size is balanced out by aerodynamic wafer-thin wings that flap at 120 times per second and are made of micro-fabrication and arthropods systems powerful enough to generate take off.

Watch the video below and find out more about this project at wyss.harvard.edu/

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle SQ-4 by ASL at Middlesex University

Another flying robot, however, in a quite larger format, is being developed by the
Autonomous Systems Lab at Middlesex University. SQ-4 Nano Quadcopter, as this small Unmanned Aerial System vehicle is called, brings 400g to the scale, and has a height of 75mm and a length and wingspan of 300 mm. With a mission radius of 1.5 km, the SQ-4 is also packed with defence technology to partner soldiers on the front line.





Microflyer – Autonomous 10-gram MC2 by Laboratory of Intelligent Systems


Photo: Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

At the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the EPFL in Switzerland, they research on many bio-inspired vision-based micro-flyers, self-deploying micro-gliders and swarming Micro Air Vehicle (MAVs) that can navigate in inhabited areas and relay information back to command centre. Though they are small in size, light weight and slow in speed for maneuverability the researchers believe that with refined neuromorphic vision chips and bio-inspired control strategies can eliminate these challenges.





The use of drones can help save costs for pilots, planes, search and rescue missions, landscape monitoring, forest fire detection and motion picture film making. With enhanced functions, drones could also be used to pursue that emerging political desire for domestic and international surveillances. Either way, micro flying robots would be unique.

Please visit our online exhibition hall for “Flying Robots Research” for more projects.