Dutch scientists flap to the future with 'insect' drone

February 23, 2014 4:44 AM

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Updated Sunday, February 23rd 2014 at 09:56 GMT +3

Delft, Netherlands: "This is the DelFly Explorer, the world's smallest drone with flapping wings that's able to fly around by itself and avoid obstacles," its proud developer Guido de Croon of the Delft Technical University told AFP.

Weighing just 20 grammes (less than an ounce), around the same as four sheets of printer paper, the robot dragonfly could be used in situations where much heavier quadcopters with spinning blades would be hazardous, such as flying over the audience to film a concert or sport event.

The Explorer looks like a large dragonfly or grasshopper as it flitters about the room, using two tiny low-resolution video cameras -- reproducing the 3-D vision of human eyes -- and an on-board computer to take in its surroundings and avoid crashing into things.

And like an insect, the drone which has a wingspan of 28 centimetres (11 inches), would feel at home flying around plants.

"It can for instance also be used to fly around and detect ripe fruit in greenhouses," De Croon said, with an eye on the Netherlands' vast indoor fruit-growing business.

"Or imagine, for the first time there could be an autonomous flying fairy in a theme park," he said.

Unlike other drones that use rotor blades and can weigh hundreds of times as much, the Explorer has two wings on each side that flap rapidly to create lift.

While smaller "flapping" drones exist, such as the RoboBee developed by students at Harvard University in the United States, they are tethered for power, control and processing, and thus, far from autonomous.

The Explorer has its own small lithium polymer battery that allows it to fly for around nine minutes, while it "sees" with its onboard processor and a specially-developed algorithm to make instant decisions.

It has wireless analog video, gyroscopes and a barometer to calculate its height.

Source: standardmedia.co.ke

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