Insect-Inspired Drone Helps Emergency Workers Navigate Disasters

Insect-Inspired Drone Helps Emergency Workers Navigate Disasters

Researchers developed a flying robot that simply bounces away from obstacles in its path.

Sara Boboltz
  • 4 november 2013

Researchers at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland have found one redeeming quality in the mosquito, heretofore nature’s most detested insect.

Using observations on the bug’s navigational strategy, they’ve created Gimball, a “crash happy” drone that could potentially help disaster relief workers cross dangerous terrain such as fires or radiation leaks. Adrian Briod, who helped develop the device, gives some insight on the team’s inspiration:

Flying insects handle collisions quite well. For them, shocks aren’t really accidents, because they’re designed to bounce back from them. This is the direction we decided to take in our research.

Where other flying robots might be incapacitated after hitting an obstacle, Gimball’s flexible, spherical frame allows it to simply bounce off corners or radioactive objects. Weighing only 13 ounces, the robot can carry things nearly three times that, meaning, for example, that it could deliver sorely needed equipment and supplies to flood or hurricane victims.


A gyroscope and an accelerometer — similar to devices used in touch-screen phones and tablets — help it detect which way is up. Two propellors, a motion sensor, camera, altimeter, micro-controller processor, and a magnetic compass allow Gimball to do its job via remote control. It’s even possible that artificial intelligence capabilities could allow the robot to accomplish tasks by itself.


Gizmag // BBC

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