Aug. 5 - Researchers in Switzerland are developing a flying robot to navigate and collect data in cluttered environments. The robot is equipped to stick to vertical surfaces, and can recover and continue flying after a crash. Jim Drury reports.
STORY: There's a new buzz in the world of flying robotics. It surround the Airburr V11, whose creators say its insect-like features make it perfect for reconaissance work..especially in dangerous or cluttered environments. Up until now, using flying robots in search and rescue missions has been problematic - they quickly run out of power and can break during high-speed collisions. Their robot's contact-sensitive carbon fibre bumpers help it withstand accidents, while a perching mechanism makes it stick to the wall, so power can be switched off while it scans the area. Co-designer Adrien Briod, from Swiss technology research institute EPFL, says it's designed to replicate flying insects. SOUNDBITE (English) ADRIEN BRIOD, DOCTORAL ASSISTANT AND CO-DESIGNER OF AIRBURR V11, SAYING: "Unlike a robot, insects were able to quickly recover in the air and continue their mission, continue flying. It was actually part of their everyday life colliding into things...That's what led to this robot that's able to collide into things without breaking and even it's able to recover after a fall to the ground, so that it can fly again." The robot's propellers are kept safely inside its core, while motion sensors provide stability during flight. Eight equidistant bumpers take the strain of inevitable crashes. SOUNDBITE (English) ADRIEN BRIOD, DOCTORAL ASSISTANT AND CO-DESIGNER OF AIRBURR V11, SAYING: "Sometimes we can avoid obstacles, thanks to our on-board sensors, but sometimes we cannot and that's fine. We even use the information we get from collisions to navigate and learn from collisions to decide where to go next." Its 'perching' mechanism is named 'Gecko' after the lizard which climbs by using forces created between the tip of each hair on its claw and the surface it's mounting. Ludovic Daler's device contains tiny artificial hairs attached to a lever, deployed by navigators. SOUNDBITE (English) LUDOVIC DALER, DOCTORAL ASSISTANT AND CO-DESIGNER OF AIRBURR V11, SAYING: "We can use the sensor to align the robot in the correct position towards the wall....when the robot's flying the pad stays inside the robot and when we detect a wall that is on the good side of the robot, we can deploy this adhesive pad and attach to the wall." Airburr is a joint project between EPFL and Carnegie Mellon University in the US. Its creators think a modified version could one day help rescuers locate survivors in collapsed buildings.