Saturday, May 14, 2011

Housefly inspired flying machines a.k.a Biomimetics- Part 2

The MFI-insect tries to emulate its biological counterparts through an unconventional approach not followed with other robots of its class ( The MFI-insect is classified as a robot due to the design principles being undertaken ,which are more suitable for robots than aircraft in general)

1) Power SourceBimorph piezoelectric actuator (mass 11 mg) develops 400 W/kg at 250 Hz.
2) WingsCarbon fiber reinforced wing has mass less than 0.3 milligrams, and inertia of 10 mg-   mm^2.

The MFI project in UC-Berkeley is a highly unconventional one.... You may wonder why a housefly-mimicking robot may be needed , but in case you did`nt know ; this project is being funded by the DARPA.

We really do not know for sure what the MFI developers have in mind, but possible applications, may include:

1) Spying/Surveillance : The obvious. the MFI can penetrate areas where conventional intelligence gathering techniques dont work much. Imagine sending these "flies" into crevices, cracks and into closed rooms where potential adversaries might be communicating.... This cute lil` thing can record or play you live streaming audio/video. Easy , isn`t it? All that the "adversaries" might be able to see is a couple of innocent looking flies in search of food.............All the while you are seeing them on your laptop as a live feed... ;-)

2) Instrumentation,Research : The usual science thing... small, highly mobile devices are greatly sought after in scientific research and the MFI is no exception. Using the right kind of on-board sensors and instruments , the MFI can sense minute changes in temperature,pressure, air quality etc., especially so in hazardous/poisonous environments where people can`t work in.

But again, System integration of these  measuring devices with the core flight components of the MFI can prove to be a challenge.Also, these instruments must be able to be accurate even in the presence of a constant vibration from the MFI "wings", which flutter at a remarkable frequency to stay airborne.
Nevertheless, things will hopefully materialize in the future.

3) Combat/Attack Scenarios : Okay, so much for the R & D part , but this may look right out of a Hollywood movie... In due course of time the meek looking MFI can be used for actual attack capabilities. Its real power though, lies not in the firepower but in its ability to stay undetected.

I vaguely remember reading somewhere that these kind of robots might as well be equipped with a payload of deadly poison in small quantities... Imitating the sting of a mosquito on the skin of the target, the payload is released in the bloodstream.A perfect recipe for taking the life outta someone without him actually knowing what happened.

This may look far fetched to some, but to me ; its a very distinct possibility . Advances in microelectronics  have rendered this more plausible than ever before.

The bottom line :

All said and done, the reality is a bit more rudimentary. In my opinion, the greatest challenge lies in developing a superior, lightweight, stable and rugged control mechanism for this kind of a robot. Remember how difficult it is to catch a fly? To mimick this feat of the fly, the MFI needs some really fast data processing units and tight sensor integration ,if it were to achieve superior mobility. 

Hereon, the MFI project becomes more of a software challenge , rather than a hardware one. If this were to be addressed satisfactorily, things could get pretty interesting.


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