Flying robots are nothing new (unless you’re Amazon), and neither, at this point, are robotic bees and remote-controlled cockroaches. But within this basic category of, there are still characteristics that set the new DelFly apart—namely, autonomy.
Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands has created the first Micro Air Vehicle, or the first autonomous winged machine. They named it the DelFly Explorer, and it looks like a cross between a dragonfly and a kid’s paper airplane. It also weighs in like one, tipping the scales at a whopping.7 oz. With a design that combines a barometer, gyroscope, two cameras, and a microcontroller that performs all necessary processing, it flutters all on its own without the help of pesky humans. DelFly sees the world through its eye cameras, and adjusts to the environment, avoiding obstacles and other pitfalls. Unfortunately, its lifespan is a bit like that of its insect counterparts—9 minutes. But hey, the DelFly just needs to be charged back up for another go. I’d like to see a fruit fly do that.
Engineers at Delft added onto the work of a few predecessors. WowWee’s FlyTech Dragonfly hit the scene about six years ago, and only a year after, awesome robotic arts sculptor James. G. Watt made a solar-powered dragonfly. Perhaps more than anything, though, the Delft engineers drew inspiration from robotic insects developed at Harvard over the past few years, as those made significant strides in controlled flight. In the Harvard system, design teams flew the robotic insects via remote control, using actuators and a tiny control system to adjust the robot’s wings to keep it aloft.
While the DelFly won’t be able to carry much of a payload, it has a number of other potential uses, including, of course, spying—perhaps on its robotic cockroach and bee friends. The only thing DelFly needs now is sentience. Sure, that might lead to DelFlies swarming lakes and ponds looking for a dragonfly mate, but just imagine the evolutionary potential in that!