In a previous article, we talked about a drone design inspired by insect anatomy. The drone has very nimble and durable limbs, which it can use to survive crash landings. It is very durable, so much that it can recreate its original form even after a crash. This opens up newer opportunities for drone designs to improve their durability.
Another insect-inspired drone tech may be on the works. This one does not look into insect limbs for durability, but focuses on an insect’s vision. The idea is simple: insects can move through tight spaces and go through narrow gaps flawlessly because of their supreme vision. Insects also evade on-air obstacles with ease, reacting as soon as they spot the barriers. Researchers are trying to replicate this idea for nano drones, which aim to do the same.
Insect Drone Vision
The University of Maryland’s Perception and Robotics Group leads the project to create simplistic nano drones. The drone structure may only carry a camera and the processing core – nothing else. This can possibly mean that the extra sensors bigger drones have in their arsenal cannot be placed in these nano drones. Only the on-board camera at its front can spot obstacles, making it the only sensor available for the drone. This design looks just like a worker bee’s anatomy. Having only the eyes in front and using it to adapt while flying is something this project hopes to achieve.
With its minimal design and very tiny frame, they can’t put a lot on-board. While the hardware part is limited, the software plans for these tiny drones are endless. Autonomy for example is a priority for these tiny flying machines. For that to work, the on-board programming must be able to detect and react to the drone’s surroundings with only one camera. This means with only limited input from the environment.
The tiny and minimal approach also means stripping the drone of its exterior protection. This can take quite the toll for its durability, especially if it crashes. It also makes the internal parts of the drone very vulnerable to the elements, not just crashes. Hopefully, the programs work flawlessly and the drone can get through small spaces without bumping into things.
So what’s the point of a nano drone that can do all these? Well for starters, you can have vision on an otherwise unreachable part of an area. Burning buildings, crushed rubble, disaster areas; sometimes you need to see what’s on the other side of the wall but can’t. The drone may be of some assistance in that regard. Another is the idea to replace bees with drones to pollinate flowers.