Pest control: Eggheads work to help RoboBees dodge that fly-swatter

Whoosh... gust of wind - sorry chaps, I'm out


Engineers and programmers working on a robot bee project could soon have the faux insects behaving more like real bees, according to engineers and roboticists at Cornell and Harvard.

The work is a joint effort between Cornell University engineers and the robot insect wranglers at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

Currently the amount of computer processing power needed for a robot to sense a gust of wind, adjust its flight, or plan its path to land on a swaying flower would require it to carry a desktop-size computer on its back.

However, the emergence of neuromorphic computer chips as a way to shrink a robot's payload, together with Cornell researchers' work on "event-based" sensing and control algorithms could help make the RoboBee more "autonomous and adaptable to complex environments" without significantly increasing its weight.

Silvia Ferrari, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the Laboratory for Intelligent Systems and Controls, said: "Getting hit by a wind gust or a swinging door would cause these small robots to lose control. We're developing sensors and algorithms to allow RoboBee to avoid the crash, or if crashing, [to] survive and still fly."

Neuromorphic chips mimic brain activity using neural networks, generating and processing bursts of electric current rather than binary code. The tech is still getting, er, off the ground, but its theoretical low power usage and flexible understanding makes it uniquely suitable for robot insects.

The Harvard Microrobotics lab is providing the robot itself, an 80-milligram device named RoboBee (which looks like a tall and skinny Moon lander with wings).

It needs to remain connected to a power source for now, but it is hoped that when the Harvard engineers are able to remove the tether, the Cornell team's algorithms will be ready to make the newly liberated robot intelligent enough to deal with its environment.

The algorithms are being developed with help of a simulator, developed by doctoral student Taylor Clawson. It is used to model the physical effects at play during each flap of the robo-sect's wings, and therefore can predict how RoboBee would fly in different scenarios.

Clawson explained: "The simulation is used both in testing the algorithms and in designing them. This network is capable of learning in real time to account for irregularities in the robot introduced during manufacturing, which make the robot significantly more challenging to control."

Ferrari said: "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."

Tiny robots and drones like the RoboBee are already in use for research and reconnaissance missions. The French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (Inria) has helped create a "minimally invasive exploration robot" (PDF) which can be inserted into historical monuments (such as the Great Pyramid at Giza) through a 3.5cm hole. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • AI with an improvisational streak is under development
    Robots need to learn to adapt to chaotic humans, says German researcher

    A German doctoral student's research is moving us ever closer to an AI skill that, as of yet, has been unrealized: improvisation.

    According to Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology, robots don't work the same way. They need exact instructions, and imprecision can disrupt a whole workflow. That's where Maximilian Diehl comes in with his research project that aims to develop a new way of training AIs that leaves room to operate in changeable environments.

    In particular, Diehl is concerned with building AIs that can work alongside people and adapt to the unpredictable nature of human behavior. "Robots that work in human environments need to be adaptable to the fact that humans are unique, and that we might all solve the same task in a different way," Diehl said.

    Continue reading
  • China rolls out bots to enforce ‘temporary closed-off management’ of Shanghai
    Drones, delivery-bots and robo-sprayers at work in locked-down megacity

    State-controlled media in China is proudly reporting the use of robots to facilitate the “temporary closed-off management” of Shanghai, which has experienced a new surge of COVID.

    The city of 26 million plus residents has been locked down as cases reportedly surge past the 13,000 mark each day, a new high for the city and a level of infection that China will not tolerate under its zero COVID policy. City authorities have quickly created 47,000 temporary hospital beds and increased capacity to four million tests each day. All residents have been required to take a test.

    Robots are helping to enforce the lockdown. Police have employed “drones equipped with a broadcasting system to patrol key areas.” The craft “publicize latest news and anti-pandemic prevention and control measures to the local communities." Which looks and sounds like this.

    Continue reading
  • Boston Dynamics' latest robot is a warehouse workhorse
    When does this thing get to unionize?

    Robotics company Boston Dynamics is making one of its latest robots more generally commercially available: a mobile, autonomous arm called Stretch.

    Stretch is outfitted with a vacuum gripping arm able to move a wide variety of box types and sizes, up to 50 pounds (≈22.7kg). Its footprint is about that of a warehouse pallet, and it can move around on its own, which Boston Dynamics said makes it a good fit for companies trying to automate without building a whole new factory.

    "Stretch offers logistics providers an easier path to automation by working within existing warehouse spaces and operations, without requiring costly reconfiguration or investments in new fixed infrastructure," Boston Dynamics said this week.

    Continue reading
  • Japanese startup makes baby carrier-style sling for 'Love Robots'
    Fittings open on Saturday, to make it easier to take motorized pals with you wherever you go

    Japanese startup Groove X will on Saturday stage fittings for a wearable sling - somewhat akin to baby carriers - designed to let owners of "Love Robots" more easily carry the machines wherever they go.

    The robots in question are called LOVOTs – a name that combines the words Love and Robot to reflect the creations' intended role as an object of domestic affection for residents of Japan that fancy cuddling up to a furry machine. LOVOTs roll around on wheels and have a cylindrical object on their head containing a camera and other sensors.

    The fitting session will take place in the newly expanded LOVOT Studio – a store in downtown Tokyo that this week opened a space in which LOVOT owners can congregate, with their robots, to enjoy each other's company among like-minded friends.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022