The VelociRoach is a robotic cockroach that has recently become a launching pad for a robot bird. The mechanical cockroach runs until the mechanical bird, or ornithopter, is at liftoff velocity.
The H2Bird is able to fly for up to 90 seconds after launch, but cannot fly without an initial push. The VelociRoach weighs slightly over an ounce, while the ornithopter is half that weight.
Researchers studied the ornithopter in a wind tunnel to determine the velocity and angle of attack needed for proper liftoff of the mechanical bird. They found ideal launch conditions include a velocity of 4.25 feet per second, at an angle between 35 and 40 degrees. They then customized the VelociRoach for launching the mechanical bird.
"[B]y combining two different forms of locomotion in one platform, you can take advantage of (say) the efficiency and endurance of a ground robot with the range and versatility of a flying robot. However, designing one robot that can walk and fly tends to be both complicated and inefficient, which is why heterogeneous robot teams are often more appealing," researchers stated in a press release announcing the development.
Surprisingly, mounting the H2Bird on top of the VelociRoach makes the mechanical cockroach more stable, and slow flapping of the wings makes the ornithopter lighter.
Researchers hope a similar design might one day be employed in robotic devices where terrain or specific dangers could require a combination of ground and air approaches. The ornithopters in future versions of the tandem team of robots may be able to return to their launching pad. In the current version of the system, the launch itself must be controlled by hand. Investigators are working on designing a fully autonomous version of the system.
A version of the VelociRoach other than the one used in this system is able to travel at speeds up to 16 feet per second, making it the fastest-legged robot, relative to its size, in the world.
Ornithopters are a generic term for any vehicle or device which flies by flapping its arms like a bird. People spent centuries attempting to develop flying machines, most of which would, today, be classified as ornithopters. A famous one, drafted by famed inventor and artist Leonardo da Vinci, was designed with pulleys, hand levers, and foot pedals for control.
Development of a VelociRoach capable of launching an ornithopter will be detailed in a presentation to be delivered to the ICRA 2015 conference, held by the IEEE Robotics & Automation Society.
Check out the video of the robotic bird being launched from the mechanical cockroach.