Jan. 19 - Scientists in the Netherlands have designed the world's first self-navigating, flapping winged robot. Called the DelFly Explorer, it can detect and avoid obstacles in its path and is being further developed to navigate entire buildings by itself. Sharon Reich reports.
It's not the first drone designed to mimic nature, but unlike other flapping-winged vehicles, the ultra lightweight DelFly Explorer navigates entirely on it's own, detecting and avoiding obstacles in its path with no human intervention The DelFly was developed by a team led by Guido De Croon at the Delft University of Technology. He says its autonomous navigational capabilities set it apart. (SOUNDBITE) (English), DELFT UNIVERSITY ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, GUIDE DE CROON, SAYING: "It's actually, when it sees something, it will fly on a little bit, then it will fly a circle, and only continuing in the direction if it sees enough space again, so this is one of the simple things it does, actually, that make it efficient, but still we are sure that it will avoid obstacles." That's due to the DelFly tiny stereo-vision system. Two built-in cameras and a tiny computer processor combine the images in real time, enabling it to determine the presence of obstacles and their precise location. It can also adapt its own altitude to suit the environment and can fly for up to nine minutes on battery power. Eventually, the team believes their vehicle could be used for indoor surveillance or monitoring, or as platform for video streaming at concerts.... But first, they need to teach it new tricks. (SOUNDBITE) (English), DELFT UNIVERSITY ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, GUIDE DE CROON, SAYING: "The next step we want to take is that it can go through the door, or through the window, and then not only explore one space, but explore the whole building for example, and the step after that is that when is exploring, it will notice at the certain point that it has less battery and then it needs to get back to the operator. So it has to do something that we know that bees for example are very good at, and they do it with little processing, and we will have to do the same thing with this small DelFly." Replicating the mechanics of a bee, De Croon admits, will take some time...but he and his team are confident that better batteries and more sophisticated sensors will gradually take Delfly to even greater heights. .