Gyroscope-free system to efficiently control the flight of insect-sized robots

Gyroscope-free system to efficiently control the flight of insect-sized robots

Image of the avionics suite components of a 10 mg “Gnat robot” on a finger. They include a 2 mg gyroscope, a 3 mg microprocessor, and a 1 mg optical optical flow sensor. Credit: Fuller, Yu and Talwikar.

Lightweight, flying robots the size of small insects could have valuable real-world applications, for example supporting search and rescue missions, inspections of hazardous sites, and even space exploration.

Despite their potential, these robots have so far proven difficult to achieve, particularly because Technical problem encountered when trying to artificially stabilize their flight and duplicate the innate abilities of insects.

Researchers at the University of Washington have recently developed a wind-sensing and flight control system that can help tackle this tricky robotics problem, finally enabling stable flight for robots even as small as a mosquito. This system was introduced in Robotics scienceis based on the use of accelerometers, a sensor that can measure the acceleration of any moving device, object or object.

“For nearly 40 years, roboticists and microfabrication experts have dreamed of creating ‘mosquito-sized’ robots weighing just a few milligrams — first proposed by Anita Flynn at Berkeley,” Sawyer Fuller, one of the researchers behind the study, told TechXplore.

She and Rodney Brooks later wrote the amusing paper,Fast, Cheap and Out of Control: Robot Conquest of the Solar System“,” who suggested sending Little robots To explore the solar system, also known as “smart dust”. Such robots would be much smaller than a 100-mg, bumblebee-sized robot called UW Robofly that students in my lab have built so far.”

In recent years, many roboticists around the world have attempted to create operating systems for insect-sized robots weighing 10 mg or less and many have succeeded, including researchers at the University of Berkeley and Army Research Laboratories. The stability and reliable flight control of these are unbelievable small robotsHowever, it has so far proven problematic.

“As a general rule, small flapping-wing robots and drones are unstable without feedback control,” Fuller explained. “If you turn on wings or rotors, they quickly flip out of the sky. The flies are thought to compensate by using a gyroscopic halter as feedback. So, an obvious solution would be to add a gyroscope to the robot design.”

Gyroscope-free system to efficiently control the flight of insect-sized robots

Images of the avionics assembly components for the 10 mg “gnat robot” on a US quarter coin. They include a 2 mg gyroscope, a 3 mg microprocessor, and a 1 mg optical optical flow sensor. Credit: Fuller.

While the integration of gyroscopes could theoretically help overcome the technical issues associated with the flight of small flying robots, the gyroscopes available today are nowhere near as light or as efficient as they would have to be to fly such light devices. The lightest gyroscope developed to date weighs 15 milligrams, 5 milligrams more than a full-sized robot weighs.

“Our proposed solution to this problem arose from my PhD thesis, where I found that flies use the sense of wind from their antennae in the form of feathers to control their flight,” Fuller said. “We’ve shown in this paper that you can do what flies do, measure airspeed, using a different type of sensor, an accelerometer. The big benefit is that accelerometers are by their very nature much smaller and more efficient than gyroscopes. They are packaged in a package that weighs only 2 mg.”

In addition to being much lighter than gyros, when combined with good models of robot dynamics, accelerometers can also help estimate the angle of inclination of robots in flight. In their design, Fuller and his colleagues also included an isobaric light flux sensor, and a small microprocessor, to also estimate the robot’s height and wind strength.

“When we compared our system’s simulated response to a gust of wind with how fruit flies respond to the same gust, we found that the two systems behave quite similarly,” Fuller said. “So now we have an interesting hypothesis about controlling insect flight to test. That is, flying insects that do not have a gyroscope, such as bees and moths, may be able to stabilize their unstable flight dynamics by sensing the wind with their antennae.”

Fuller and colleagues tested their system in both simulations and real-world experiments using a 30-gram robot and found that it could successfully stabilize its flight, allowing it to replicate the dynamics of flight. fruit flies. In the future, they hope it can be applied and tested on many other flying robots, including even lighter robots weighing 10 milligrams or less.

“We managed to stabilize it Flight control A system based on off-the-shelf parts small enough for the size of a mosquito Robot,” Fuller added. Our system can also be adapted to larger robots, such as the 100 mg UW Robofly, allowing for a larger payload to be assigned to a larger battery or other sensors. In our upcoming studies, we plan to demonstrate that they fly on the UW Robofly.”

more information:
Sawyer Fuller et al., A Gyroscope-Free Optical Inertial Flight Control System and Wind Sensing for 10-MG Robotics, Robotics science (2022). DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.abq8184

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