Drones or flying robots are taking cues from nature when it comes to overcoming certain obstacles in flying, navigating and landing in multifaceted urban environments.
According to a special issue of the Bioinspiration & Biomimetics journal of IOP Publishing, 14 teams of researchers came up with solutions that were grounded on mechanisms adopted by bats, birds, snakes and insects. The special issue of the journal was dedicated to bio-inspired flight control.
"Flying animals can be found everywhere in our cities. From scavenging pigeons to alcohol-sniffing fruit flies that make precision landings on our wine glasses, these animals have quickly learnt how to control their flight through urban environments to exploit our resources," David Lentink, the special issue's guest editor from Stanford University, says in a statement.
"This special issue provides a unique integration between biological studies of animals and bio-inspired engineering solutions. Each of the 14 papers presented in this special issue offer a unique perspective on bio-mimetic flight, providing insights and solutions to the take-off, obstacle avoidance, in-flight grasping, swarming, and landing capabilities that urban drones need to succeed," Lentink adds.
The research teams were able to develop solutions to various obstacles these drones or flying robots may be faced with, which range from picking up to delivering items and from taking off to landing on unstable surfaces. In a real-world setting, among the challenges drones face is dealing with environmental elements such as freezing cold, extreme heat, and heavy rain or thunder.
A team of researchers from three universities, meanwhile, looked into the issues of whirlwinds and strong winds, considered to be most challenging of all obstacles faced by flying robots, by studying the movements of a hawk moth. The researchers came from The John Hopkins University, University of California and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Researchers from Stanford University and Universite de Sherbrooke found a way to minimize the amount of power required for drone operations through a "jumpglider." A "jumpglider" merges an airplane-shaped body and a mechanical foot on spring, pushing the robot or done up in the air. The researchers got their inspiration from vertebrates such as the flying snake, flying fish and flying squirrel, which use their aerodynamic bodies to lengthen the range of their jumps to escape predators. They think a "jumpglider" can serve in search-and-rescue operations, functioning at a low power but providing a considerable advantage over land-based robots because it can go over uneven terrains and around possible obstacles.
The journal says small flying robots or drones were already used in some search-and-rescue operations to investigate dangerous and hard-to-reach locations, such as Fukushima in Japan.
Believing there's much room for improvement if such robots can work in tandem like birds in a flock, a team of researchers from Hungary created an algorithm that permits several drones to fly together. To demonstrate the efficiency of the algorithm, it was used to direct movements of a flock of nine separate quadcopters as they followed a car in motion. Such orchestrated movement may be useful when help is needed to search massive spreads of land.
A Harvard University's team of researchers also created a millimeter-sized flying robot or microrobot that can explore or navigate through very tight or cramped areas. The drone was only the size of a one-cent coin. It could fly, land and stay up in the sky for prolonged periods of time. Interestingly, millimeter-sized drones could be seen in the near future to help in agriculture pollination and reconnaissance as well as to assist future studies of flights among insects.
All teams hope the solutions will lead to deploying drones in highly complex environments in various ways, whether it be for military surveillance or search and rescue operations, for dependable courier services or as flying camera phones.