World’s lightest wireless flying robot created by NIFTI PI Sawyer Fuller’s team

Weighing in at 190 mg, “RoboFly” is only slightly larger than an actual fly. 

NIFTI PI Sawyer Fuller and his team have created what is to date the world’s lightest wireless flying robot.  The team also includes Vikram Iyer, Johannes James, Shyam Gollakota, and NIFTI graduate student Yogesh Chukewad.  See the research paper here.

Currently, insect-sized flying machines need to be tethered in order to deliver the power required for flight (check out Fuller’s “RoboBee“). In order to circumvent this issue, RoboFly is powered by a laser beam using a photovoltaic cell.  An on-board circuit boosts the seven volts generated by the cell to the 240 necessary to power the wings.  The circuit also contains a microcontroller which controls the movement of the wings.  “The microcontroller acts like a real fly’s brain telling wing muscles when to fire,” according to Vikram Iyer.

RoboFly’s flexible circuit. The copper coil and black boxes to the right comprise the boost converter, and the microcontroller is the small square box in the top right.

In the future, autonomous roboinsects could be used to complete tasks such as surveying crop growth or detecting gas leaks.  “I’d really like to make one that finds methane leaks,” says Fuller. “You could buy a suitcase full of them, open it up, and they would fly around your building looking for plumes of gas coming out of leaky pipes. If these robots can make it easy to find leaks, they will be much more likely to be patched up, which will reduce greenhouse emissions. This is inspired by real flies, which are really good at flying around looking for smelly things. So we think this is a good application for our RoboFly.”

The Robofly team. Front row: Vikram Iyer (left) and Johannes James; back row (from left): Yogesh Chukewad, Sawyer Fuller, and Shyam Gollakota.

At the moment, RoboFly is only capable of taking off and landing, as there is no way for the laser beam to track the robot’s movement; but the team hopes to soon be able to steer the laser and allow the machine to hover and fly.  Shyam Gollakota says that future versions could use tiny batteries or harvest energy from radio frequency signals.  That way, their power source can be modified for specific tasks.

See a video below of the RoboFly in action!

RoboFly has received extensive publicity, see coverage by WIRED, The Economist, IEEE Spectrum, MIT Tech Review, TechCrunch, Discover MagazineGeekWire, Popular Mechanics, Engadget, CNET, Digital TrendsSiliconrepublic, and SlashGear.

Steve Brunton, NIFTI PI, wins 2018 UW College of Engineering Award

Steve Brunton, winner of the 2018 UW College of Engineering Award for Junior Faculty.We are excited to announce that NIFTI faculty member Steve Brunton has won the 2018 UW College of Engineering Award for Junior Faculty!  The UW College of Engineering Awards “acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of the college’s teaching and research assistants, staff and faculty members.” Congratulations, Steve!

In 2017, Steve Brunton won the UW College of Engineering’s Faculty Award for Teaching.  He also recently won an AFOSR Young Investigator Award.

NIFTI’s AFRL partners win AFOSR Star Team Award

NIFTI would like to congratulate Ric Wehling’s Bio-Principic Research team, our Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) partners, for being named a Star Team by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR)!

The AFOSR Star Team Award recognizes AFRL researchers who have “demonstrated world class scientific or engineering achievement that is cutting edge, and ‘the best of the best’”.  The award’s goals are to “reward scientific achievement, foster excellence through the AFRL research community, showcase Air Force research, and promote the important role of intramural basic research within the Air Force’s overall science and technology investment”.

Wehling’s team is being recognized for their research under the Laboratory Task entitled “Natural System-Inspired Sensors for Agile Flight and Sensory Ecology and Information Exploitation”.  The team members receiving this prestigious honor include Dr. Jennifer Talley, Dr. Nick Rummelt, Dr. Kaitlin Fair, Dr. Tony Thompson, Dr. Ben Dickinson, Dr. Brian Taylor, Dr. Kevin Brink, Dr. Doug Nance, Dr. Dennis Goldstein (emeritus), and Mr. Johnny Evers (emeritus).