Although birds have been inspiring drones for years, the agility of the hummingbird is one that researchers have been struggling to emulate. But now researchers at Purdue University have managed to capture the swift movements of the hummingbird, building a hummingbird-like drone that flies following algorithms trained on the birds’ natural flight patterns.
While previous attempts at robotic hummingbirds were larger than life, slow and human-controlled, the Purdue drone is close to the same size as the real thing. It has a wingspan of 17 cm and weighs as much as the average adult hummingbird – a slender 12 g. It’s all wrapped in a 3D printed body that sports wings made of carbon fiber and membranes that allow it to fly and behave like a hummingbird. That’s more impressive than it sounds for a robot – these unassuming little birds can pull off some of the most insane aerial stunts known to bird-kind, including hovering and turning 180 degrees in 0.2 seconds flat.
Their remarkable maneuverability and relatively small size mean they could potentially be used in rescue missions after a disaster, to help look for survivors in small spaces or assess the damage.