Lockheed Martin Robotics Seminar Series
Toward autonomous flying insect-sized robots: recent results in fabrication, design, power systems, control, and sensing
Sawyer Buckminster Fuller
Department of Mechanical Engineering
University of Washington
Insect-sized aerial robots will be deployed where their small size, low cost, and maneuverability give them an advantage over larger robots. For example, they could deploy in swarms to follow airborne plumes to locate gas leaks in dense piping infrastructure, or operate as assistants for humans without impact hazard. However, insect scale imposes miniaturization challenges everywhere from how the robot is actuated to limits to the amount of computation that can be performed for control. My work is focused on taking inspiration from insect sensory-motor control systems, which evolved under similar constraints. Using minimal resources, they are able perform tasks that remain at the forefront of robotic capabilities, such as landing on a flower buffeted by turbulent wind or dodging a flyswatter. I will present recent research in my lab that aims to build physical instantiations of such robots that are the size of bumblebees. This requires solving a number of open challenges, such as how to provide a sufficiently small power source, how to actuate flapping wings, and how to integrate tiny sensor systems. Recent results include the first integrated high-voltage electronics circuitry to fly, rapid flight maneuvers using a tail-like appendage, and a new design with four wings for better control. The results of this work extend beyond insect robots to anywhere there is a need for miniaturized and power-efficient sensing, power-efficient control systems, and more dynamic and life-like robots.
Sawyer Fuller creates biologically-inspired sensors, control systems, and mechanical designs targeted at insect-sized air and ground vehicles, and investigates the flight systems of aerial insects. He completed his Ph.D. in Biological Engineering at the California Institute of Technology and B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and postdoctoral training at Harvard. In addition to his work in insect flight control, he also developed a frog-hopping robot at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and invented an ink-jet printer capable of fabricating millimeter-scale 3D metal machines at the MIT Media Lab. His work at the intersection of robotics and biology has appeared in journals such as Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.