An innovate team of engineers from the University of Washington have figured out a way to make bug-size drones, consequently paving the way for the first wireless version called “RoboFly” that literally weighs as much as a feather. To take care of the wing’s heavy electric demands, the team has incorporated a photovoltaic cell into the design which is fed by a laser light that also doubles up as the controls. The cell converts the energy into 7 volts worth of electricity which is then upped by a converter to the requisite flight voltage of 240 volts. A microcontroller completes the heart of the drone’s circuitry serving as sort of a brain that determines if, when, and how fast the wings need to flap.
Project leader Sawyer Fuller, who is an assistant professor at UW and also spearheads the Autonomous Insect Robotics Laboratory at the institution, still believes that the road to the perfect insect sized drone is still far away. He says that while these robots have gotten a lot smaller, much of the accompanying sensor technology that makes a drone tick such as a rangefinder, scanning lasers and radar conversely aren’t getting any smaller. This means only larger drones are capable of having these devices while these tiny drones are forced to rely on archaic cameras for navigation.
For now, the RoboFly is still far from the finished products as it currently is only capable of landing and taking off. Also, once the drone loses its line of sight with the laser, everything immediately stop. Fuller however, approximates that his team will solve this problem within the next five years courtesy of the comprehensive sensor and brain systems that they are working on to enable independent multitasking and limitless navigation.
These insect sized drones are bound to help shape the future of a number of lucrative industries such as insurance, construction, and agriculture. Mr. Fuller believes the agricultural sector will stand to benefit the most as such a drone would be able to offer essential details about air conditions, pests, and diseases at a microscopic level that the larger models can’t handle. So while wireless, insect sized drones are still some way off from the marketplace, there have been massive steps in the right direction so it’s only a matter of time until these fully automatic bug-sized drones become a reality.