Acting Is Seeing: Navigating Tight Space Using Flapping Wings

by   Zhan Tu, et al.

Wings of flying animals not only can generate lift and control torque but also can sense their surroundings. Such dual functions of sensing and actuation coupled in one element are particularly useful for small sized bio-inspired robotic flyers, whose weight, size, and power are under constraint. In this work, we present the first flapping-wing robot using its flapping wings for environmental perception and navigation in tight space, without the need for any visual feedback. Specifically, we introduce Purdue Hummingbird, a flapping-wing robot with 17cm wingspan and 12 grams weight, as our test platform. By interpreting the wing loading feedback and its variations, the vehicle can detect the presence of environmental changes such as grounds, walls, stairs, obstacles and wind gust. The instantaneous wing loading can be obtained through the measurements and interpretation of the current feedback by the motor that actuates the wing. The effectiveness of the proposed approach is experimentally demonstrated on several challenging flight tasks without vision: terrain following, wall following and going through a narrow corridor. To ensure flight stability, a robust controller was designed for handling unforeseen disturbances during the flight. Sensing and navigating one's environment through actuator loading is a promising method for mobile robots and it can serve as an alternative or complementary method to visual perception.


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