Meet the tiny drones that could one day do the work of insects

Tiny aerial robots developed by MIT researchers could be the first step towards a new generation of miniature, agile and particularly resilient drones. — AFP Relaxnews

Researchers in the US have unveiled a new generation of tiny, and particularly agile and shock-resistant drones. This kind of aerial robot could help pollinate certain crops instead of insects, some of which are now endangered.

Research into flying robots, led by assistant professor Kevin Yufeng Chen from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has given rise to a system echoing the behaviour of insects. In fact, this tiny drone has the size and the agility of a living insect. One day, these miniature aerial robots could be used to pollinate crops, among other things.

Building this kind of drone is particularly challenging, notably due to its tiny size and the miniaturization of its components. The prototype's exceptional resilience was achieved by using soft actuators instead of hard, fragile ones, which are less shock-resistant.

The soft actuators are made of thin rubber cylinders coated in carbon nanotubes. These are linked to the drone's wings helping them to flap nearly 500 times a second. In all, the drone weighs just 0.6 grams, approximately the mass of a large bumblebee.

And, thanks to its design, this tiny aerial robot can safely collide with obstacles without compromising its flight.

As well as potentially being able to artificially pollinate certain crops, when equipped with a camera, this kind of drone could also be used to explore particularly complex or inaccessible zones, such as after an earthquake, for example.

While this flying robot is largely inspired by insects, it could also help researchers learn more about how insects fly. – AFP Relaxnews

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