Engineers Program Tiny Robots to Move Like Insects

Engineers Program Tiny Robots to Move Like Insects

Engineers have successfully built tiny, insect-like robots, however, programming them to behave autonomously as real insects continue to present technical challenges, according to Science Daily on December 14, 2017.

A team of engineers from Cornell have been experimenting with a new type of programming that mimics the way the brain of an insect functions.

Robots would require computers to be able to sense a gust of wind, using tiny hair-like metal probes imbedded on its wings to adjust its flight. Silvia Ferrari, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the Laboratory for Intelligent Systems and Controls, sees the emergence of neuromorphic computer chips as a way to shrink a robot’s payload.

Unlike conventional chips, neuromorphic chips process spikes of electrical current that fire in complex combinations, similar to how neurons fire inside a brain. Ferrari’s lab is developing a new class of event-based sensing and control algorithms, which mimic neural activity and can be implemented on neuromorphic chips. As the chips require significantly less power than, they allow engineers to pack more computation into the same payload.

Ferrari’s lab teamed up with the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory, which has developed an 80-milligram flying RoboBee outfitted with a number of vision, optical flow and motion sensors. While the robot currently remains tethered to a power source, Harvard researchers are working on eliminating the restraint with the development of new power sources. The Cornell algorithms will help make RoboBee more autonomous and adaptable to complex environments without significantly increasing its weight.

“We’re using RoboBee as a benchmark robot because it’s so challenging, but we think other robots that are already untethered would greatly benefit from this development because they have the same issues in terms of power,” said Ferrari.

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