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Airborne Robots

The little device at the left is a mock-up of an ambitious project at UC Berkeley to develop an artificial fly. If you ask me, they don't have a chance of succeeding. The challenges are just too great. They need to get the tiny wings flapping at 150 times per second, there needs to be some means of keeping the system stable in the air and somehow it has to navigate. And all this on something the size of a dime. They have gotten one wing to flap fast enough that, if they mount it on a little wire boom, it will generate some thrust. In other words they are nowhere close after years of work. This may be the type of system that can only be developed via evolution.

At right we see a little robot blimp made with a polymer balloon. These blimps are available as R/C controlled toys. They can be modified to add sensors and computational hardware which can transform them into robots. I think they are a great way to experiment with obstacle avoidance and machine-based decision making. You can go straight to the machine intelligence and skip the engineering of a mobility platform. Well, unless you think engineering the mobility platform is the fun part.

I love this little robot plane developed by the Navy. They call it the "Silver Fox" and it really does use an engine from the world of R/C planes. This is no R/C plane though. It is capable of fully autonomous flight and is designed for reconnaissance, intelligence, surveillance and target acquisition by small military units. The current model carries commercially available sensors. The goal is to give the Silver Fox, which is also known as the Smart Warfighter Array of Reconfigurable Modules (SWARM), 24-hour endurance a 1,500-mile range and a maximum altitude of 10,000-feet. The idea of 100 of these things filled with explosives flying 1000 miles and then closing on an enemy target like a swarm of mad bees is truly terrifying.

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