The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has announced a new robotics center to develop robots designed to do useful things. Rather than producing a single large robot that will multitask, the institute is focusing on swarms of insect inspired micro-robots that accomplish useful tasks.
One of the robot creations is a miniature plane that is based on a fly. A tiny camera functions in place of compound eyes, inertia sensors give directions and anemometer hairs measure wind speed. The robot is capable of flying autonomously. Potential uses are for monitoring crops or industrial sites. Mini-drones could create a WiFi network in disaster areas where other communications systems are not functioning. As our miniaturization capabilities improve, so will our ability to equip robots with capabilities that serve insects so well.
One robot, the Swinglet, is being marketed by senseFly. The drone has an 80 cm wingspan and can capture images with its camera. Other sensing devices can be mounted on the platform. According to the brochure,
You don’t need to be a pilot to fly the swinglet, it takes off, flies and lands on its own. You may want to use it for picture capturing, or for air quality monitoring, atmospheric sampling, surveillance or mapping.