When developing robotic systems, computer scientists often draw inspiration from animals or other biological systems. Depending on a system's unique characteristics and purpose, in fact, nature typically offers specific examples of how it could achieve its goals rapidly and effectively.
This time, scientists inspired their new flying robot from owls.
Inspired by the flying mechanisms of owls, researchers at Shanghai Jiaotong University have recently developed new flying robots that can avoid obstacles in their surroundings. They explained the details of their new robotic system in a research paper published on the arXiv website.
"Although owls are unable to move their eyes in any direction (similarly to stereo cameras), they have a very flexible neck that can swivel up to 270 degrees, which enables them to rapidly observe even behind without relocating their torso," the researchers write in their paper.
To replicate the way in which owls move their eyes in different directions and detect both static and moving objects around them, the researchers mounted a servo motor and a stereo camera on a quadrotor (an unmanned flying robot with four rotors). In their design, the servo motor acts as a neck and the stereo camera as a head. Due to the light weight of the stereo camera, it can move much faster than the robot's body and its movements barely affect the quality of the robot's movements or the direction it is flying in.
According to a report published Sunday on the Science Network website, the system helps the robot sense objects in different directions and plans the angle at which its "head" (the stereo camera) should rotate accordingly. Thus, the quadrotor continuously and actively senses its surroundings, identifying obstacles impeding its way rapidly.
In addition, the system tracks and predicts the trajectories of moving obstacles in its vicinity, adapting its movements to changes in the surrounding environment.
Finally, based on the data collected by the stereo camera, the system plans a collision-free path, which would allow the robot to reach a specific location or complete a mission without colliding with other objects. In the future, this system could be used to carry out missions in a wide range of environments, ranging from urban areas to natural environments largely populated by wildlife.