The Hovering Hummingbird Robot

This is somewhat off-topic, but an interesting development in the field of flying machines. A press release and video from Purdue University showsa flying robot that can behave like a hummingbird, both fly like a bird and hover like an insect. They talk about using such devices in search-and-rescue operations, but also in military and surveillance settings, so as usual this could have both constructive and destructive purposes.

From the press release:

Purdue University researchers have engineered flying robots that behave like hummingbirds, trained by machine learning algorithms based on various techniques the bird uses naturally every day.

This means that after learning from a simulation, the robot “knows” how to move around on its own like a hummingbird would, such as discerning when to perform an escape maneuver.

Artificial intelligence, combined with flexible flapping wings, also allows the robot to teach itself new tricks. Even though the robot can’t see yet, for example, it senses by touching surfaces. Each touch alters an electrical current, which the researchers realized they could track.

“The robot can essentially create a map without seeing its surroundings. This could be helpful in a situation when the robot might be searching for victims in a dark place – and it means one less sensor to add when we do give the robot the ability to see,” said Xinyan Deng, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue.