This page was printed from

Robots on the wing

Swatches | August 1, 2019 | By:

Purdue University researchers are building robotic hummingbirds taught to fly using artificial intelligence methods. The robots fly while tethered to an energy source, but the researchers expect that soon they will have the freedom of battery operation. Photos: Purdue University/Jared Pike.

Hummingbirds are amazing creatures: They flap their wings as fast
as 80 times per second, they’re able to hover by flapping their wings
in a figure-eight pattern, and they can even fly backwards and upside
down. If drones had this capability, possibilities could include daring
rescue missions such as maneuvering through collapsed buildings
and other tight spaces to find trapped victims. 

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a flying robot that behaves like a hummingbird. The research team spent multiple summers
in Montana documenting the birds’ key movements, such as making a
rapid 180-degree turn. They translated these maneuvers into computer algorithms that the robots can learn when connected to a simulation.
The process enables the robot to know how to move around on its own, including when to perform actions like an escape maneuver.

Using artificial intelligence and flexible flapping wings, the robot also
can learn on its own: It senses by touching surfaces, and each touch alters
an electrical current that can be tracked and mapped by researchers. 

The bodies of the robots are 3D printed. The wings are made of carbon fiber and laser-cut membranes; they require two motors to operate, and each wing can be controlled independently.

The researchers built one robot that weighs 12 grams—the size of an adult hummingbird—and another insect-size that is just 1 gram. The larger robot can lift up to 27 grams. For more information, visit

Share this Story