Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

I came across a very cool video today morning and that gives this post its name. Before I get into that, I think it would be much desirable to give an introduction to Ornithopters in general and talk about some robotic ornithopters. For those interested solely in the video, well it is at the end of the post (second last video).



An Ornithopter basically means an aircraft (even a robot) that can fly by flapping its wings. Though the word might sound complicated initially (Although the prefix Ornith- is well known). All of us at some point in time (whether as a childhood fantasy or as a serious hobby or professional work) have wanted Ornithopters. Ornithopters have been a fantasy since very ancient times, and it is obvious to have been as birds have always fascinated and amazed humans. There have been many reported Ornithopters in Hindu mythology. Also the legend of Daedalus and Icarus is well known, in which Daedalus designed feathered wings to fly out of the island of Crete on to which he was imprisoned.

The legendary Leonardo Da Vinci – A genius  imprisoned in a time where his ideas just could not have been realized, made some designs of Ornithopters and other glider type flying machines (but let’s avoid machines that do not have any moving wings in this post, though some are very cool). Some of which were very good engineering designs.


Click to Enlarge

Though we tend to regard the idea of wing powered machines as failed because of the success of modern day style aircraft there have been many successful flights. The first reported to have flown successfully was made in 1929 by Alexander Lippisch, it flew about 300 meters before the flight was terminated due to the obvious limitations of human muscle power. A number of motorized ornithopters have been made since then. A number of people take  Ornithopters as a serious hobby.


Modern Ornithopters

These days though, the interest has been more in ornithopters that resemble insects, such as bees, both as toys and sophisticated autonomous flying spy robots. The size of such Miniature Aerial Vehicles would ensure they are impossible to detect and hence are perfect for spying missions. Especially in the case of urban warfare when the opposing party might be holed up in a building. Thus, needless to say these can be very helpful in counter-terror operations. The aim in making such bots would be to make them very low cost with flight times as high as 5-6 hours. Let me cite some examples of some cool miniature aerial vehicles of the ornithopter category.

After some early feasibility studies done at the Lincoln laboratories at the MIT, DARPA in 1997 began a multi-million dollar program to make some sophisticated Miniature Aerial Vehicles (MAVs), some of the designs and projects also included ornithopters.

One such ornithopter was the MicroBat ornithopter developed at the California Institute of Technology along with AeroVironment and UCLA.


[The MicroBat Ornithopter, Image Source]

This paper reports the making  of the MicroBat Ornithopter. The excerpt to the paper:

This paper reports the successful development of “Microbat,” the first electrically powered palm-sized ornithopter. This first prototype was flown for 9 seconds in October 1998. It was powered by two 1-farad super capacitors. Due to the rapid discharge of the capacitor power source, the flight duration was limited. To achieve a longer flight, a rechargeable battery as a power source is preferred. The second prototype houses a small 3-gram rechargeable Ni-Cad battery. The best flight performance for this prototype lasted 22 seconds. The latest and current prototype is radio-controlled and is capable of turning left or right, pitching up or down. It weighs approximately 12.5 grams. So far, the best flight duration achieved is 42 seconds. The paper also discusses the study of flapping-wing flight in the wind tunnel using wings developed by MEMS technology. This enables a better understanding the key elements in developing efficient wings to achieve aerodynamic advantage in flapping-wing flight.

Another research group led by Robert C. Michelson made another Ornithopter called the Entomopter. This went one step ahead and can be called a milestone in MAV ornithopter development. The aim was to closely mimick the flight of birds and thus totally eliminate the usage of gears and motors. The entomopter is driven by wings that are driven by a reciprocating chemical muscle.


Click to Enlarge


Ornithopter Toys

There are now a number of companies that offer ornithopter toys. One of the most well known probably is the FlyTech Dragonfly from WowWee, It is a remote controlled wireless ornithopter. It seems like a pretty fun toy. You can see a video on this toy here >>

800px-flytech_dragonfly_blue_1200px [FlyTech DragonFly Ornithopter]

A number of people take making ornithopters as a very serious hobby. If you wish to make one, then I would direct you to this page.


Butterfly Ornithopter

Finally I come to the part that gave this blog post its title. ;-)

In a paper at IROS 2008, researchers from the Shimoyama – Matsumoto Lab at the university of Tokyo presented their work on an extremely light butterfly ornithopter.


[Butterfly Ornithopter: Image Source]

The artificial butterfly wing consists of a thin polymer membrane which is supported by viens of plastic having rectangular cross section. The purpose of this paper was to study the effect of veins on the performance of flight. The parameters for this “butterfly” are more or less comparable to that of an actual butterfly.The weight of the ornithopter including the wings is just about 0.39 gms and the flapping frequency 10 Hz.

Here is a fantastic video of the Ornithopter depicted in the figure above:


Some more work on Ornithopters at Shimoyama – Matsumoto Lab:

Since I have just mentioned the work on the Butterfly Ornithopter, there is some cool work going at the Shimoyama – Matsumoto Lab on ornithopters.

>> Dragonfly Type of Ornithopters

>> Butterfly Type of Ornithopters

>> Hovering Flight of Ornithopters


[Hovering Type Ornithopter: Image Source]


Bio-Inspired Flying Robots

Finally before ending, I would like to post a bonus video ;-)

This video was the winner at the AAAI – 08 video contest. Like the video on Morphogenesis (Swarm Intelligence) which I posted about 10 months back, which was also a winner in the same contest, this video too is excellent.


Quick Links:

1. MAVSTAR – Micro Aerial Vehicles for Search Tracking and Reconnaissance.

2. A Reciprocating Chemical Muscle for Micro Air Vehicle “Entomopter” Flight – GTRI

3. Nano Air Vehicle – DARPA

4. Ornithopter Zone – Excellent site for the hobbyist.

5.  Project Ornithopter – Project on making Ornithopters on a much larger scale than those discussed in this post.


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The idea of spherical robots is not new, however they are still interesting and Rotundus, the spherical robot that happened to be in the Popular Science best of ’08 is very interesting.

groundbot[Groundbot, Image Soure: PopSci]

Click to Enlarge

The Rotundus is driven by a pendulum inside the spherical casing. This pendulum controlled by a motor gives the robot direction. Getting the pendulum to move forward makes the robot to roll forward and moving it left or right gives it the ability to steer. The makers of this robot hope to make it autonomous with improvements. They hope to integrate in it a GPS so that it can follow specified routes to patrol and to incorporate radar sensors to help move about obstacles. They also plan to give it sufficient power to move up on slopes.


[Rotundus: Image Source]

From Popular Science:

The GroundBot is a spherical sentry designed to roll up to 6 mph through just about anything—mud, sand, snow and even water. Two gyroscopically steadied wide-angle cameras and a suite of sensors give remote operators a real-time, 360-degree view of the landscape, letting them zoom in on prowlers or detect gas leaks, radioactivity and biohazards. Originally invented by Swedish physicists to explore other planets, the GroundBot features a tough design that requires almost no maintenance and can also be programmed to run autonomously. Its sealed shell protects its interior against grit and allows it to survive steep drops, while a rubber skin dampens vibration and provides traction. To get rolling, the robot simply shifts its weight. Its center of mass is suspended from a pendulum inside the sphere, so motors just push the pendulum to the front, to the back, or to the side. Lithium-ion batteries provide up to 16 hours of spy time.

The advantages of a spherical robot are manifold, its design is extremely non-complicated. It offers good protection to the sensors and equipment sealed inside the sphere. Rotundus is very light, just about 25 Kilos, but the low weight advantage is multiplied as the rotundus is sealed. That means that it has a low density and can thus float. Thus it may be used to operate on-road, off-road and over water! Sealing the bot has other advantages than simply allowing the robot to have low density so that it can float, it also ensures that no sand can get inside to interfere with the motors and etc. The sealing also makes the robot of good use in gas leak scenarios as electrical sparks (if any) in the inside are sealed off. The design also makes the robot a very silent operator.

Check the following video showing the Rotundus roll along in snow:

A group of Rotundus robots may be used as helper bots along with the new Mars rover, the SUV sized Mars Research Laboratory that is expected to be launched by next fall.

The Rotundus has some obvious limitations. Like it can’t operate properly inside buildings as it can’t move up stairs. For such purposes biologically inspired bots remain the best bet IMO. See some of them here, really cool research:

Quick Links:

1. Rotundus

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In a number of seminars at a lot of universities or industry interactions one of the hot topics these days is efficient wireless power transfer and the pressing need and desirability of it. It is even more interesting given that wireless power is nothing new at all. One of the earliest patents in this area was given in 1900 to the legendary Nikola Tesla (Patent number: 649621) and there has been a discussion on it ever since. Probably now is the time to really realize Tesla’s vision with the number of devices of daily usage growing rapidly.

[Left Nikola Tesla | Right Alanson Sample, Intel Engineer Demonstrating WREL (Image Source)]

Intel has been at present working on what they call the Wireless Resonant Energy Link, which is based on the work of some MIT physicists. In the image above, an Intel engineer is seen demonstrating powering of a 60 W bulb wirelessly. Doing so requires more power than what is needed to charge a laptop. The implications of this technology can be immense. However the adverse effects of such technology on humans remain to be seen but are not viewed as a major impediment to its development.

Another area that is being discussed extensively these days is claytronics, catoms or simply programmable matter. Let’s take a brief digression into this before coming back to the original topic.

Claytronics: Claytronics seems to be one of the most futuristic and promising application areas of the intersection of Robotics, Swarm Intelligence and Computer Science among others. Claytronics is a field concerning reconfigurable nanoscale robots (which are called Claytronic Atoms or Catoms) which can operate as a swarm and can be desgined to form much more complex elements and perform complex tasks. These sub-millmeter computers eventually would have the ability to move around, communicate with other computers, and even electrostatically attach to each other to allow the swarm to take different shapes.

Catoms also referred to as programmable matter could reconfigure to form almost any shape, take any color or texture. Some interesting speculations include that catoms could be morphed to form replicas of humans (for virtual meetings) as well.  For a brief initiating idea have a look at the video below:

Work on this has been done by Prof Seth Goldstein and his group at Carnegie Mellon and is still on under the name the Claytronics Project. This work has been expanded upon by Intel researchers.

A senior researcher at Intel Jason Campbell has the following to say on just SOME possibilities that we could have in the future from programmable matter.

Think of a mobile device, My cell phone is too big to fit comfortably in my pocket and too small for my fingers. It’s worse if I try to watch movies or do my e-mail. But if I had 200 to 300 milliliters of catoms, I could have it take on the shape of the device that I need at that moment. For example, the catoms could be manipulated to create a larger keypad for text messaging. And when the device wasn’t being used, I could command it to form its smallest shape or even be a little squishy, so I can just drop it in my pocket.

Battery Powered Robots, An impediment to Research in SI based Robotic Systems:

There has been a lot of research going on swarm robotics. Taking just two examples, consider the work of James McLurkin of the CSAIL, MIT and the work at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland. A lot of James’ work can be seen here, with a number of videos and papers available for download.

In the video below, a swarm of 278 miniature e-puck robots move around. All of them are battery powered. Battery powered robots can not only be a headache but a severe research impediment as the size of the swarm increases.

It thus would be very desirable that the swarm is wirelessly powered.

So, in short a lot of work is being done in the above two fields but what is also required is an intersection of the two, and this is exactly what Travis Deyle of Georgia Tech and Dr Matt Reynolds of Duke have done. Their work, Surface based wireless power transmission and bidirectional communication for autonomous robot swarms. presented at the IEEE ICRA this year details the construction of a 60cmx60cm surface that provides wireless power and bi-directional communication to an initial swarm of 5 line following robots. Each robot had a power consumption of about 200 mW.

[Image Courtesy : Travis Deyle]

An actual robot looks like the following in close up.

Wirelessly Powered Robot Swarm from Travis on Vimeo.

For more extensive details about the setup and circuit details have a look at their paper and the presentation slides.

Related Posts:

Morphogenesis and Swarm Robotics

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Some of the search queries that lead to this blog really amaze/ perplex/ puzzle me and sometimes even embarrass me. Though yes, sometimes the search queries are very smart! Following a post by Dr Aurelie Thiele that echoed the same sentiment (minus the embarrassment I guess), I decided to index some BASIC Google searching tips that I use frequently which I think could be of help. Even if you are using most of them or some of them you can add some which you have not been using often and also suggestions (for operators, not essentials) would be most welcome.

Google is by far the most popular search engine on the Internet, accounting for about 80 percent of all the search queries made on it. Google has become highly popular not only because of its searching abilities but also because of the vast number of querying options that it comes with. Obviously with so many functions most of us miss out on them, and some that we miss out on turn out to be really very helpful. Also with such powerful searching capabilities there is a very valid concern for privacy violations, as unsuspecting sites can keep out private information open for smart searches, but let’s not talk about that in this post. Maybe sometime later.

I will also not be talking about the various services that Google offers, though they can largely change the output of a particular search. I would leave that part out.

Google Calculator:

Basic Operators: + (Addition); (Subtraction); * (Multiplication); / (Division); % of (Percentage of); ^ (Raised to a Power).

Calculator Examples: Note the examples for some cool ones.

75% of 150;    12^13;    87 in hexadecimal;     (2+i)*(3+i);    the speed of light in knots;    m_moon;

r_saturn;    h;    kbit/s in bit/s;    40USD to RUR;    sqrt(-9);    200 pounds*780 feet in calories.

I would leave it on the reader to try more interesting queries taking ques from the above if they were of any help at all.

Other Essentials and search features and tips can be obtained from the page I linked to.

First thing to remember is that one should not search on Google thinking it understands human language. The main point is to search for key words and to search them using appropriate queries instead of asking Google a question. This “question” type of searching can work for simple questions such as “What is Dino?” However it is difficult to get good results if we are looking for more specific results.

Google Query Operators: Here I index some of the most commonly used and most useful query operators. Skillful use of such operators can lead to very interesting results that otherwise would have been rather elusive. These are common knowledge, but no harm in indexing them again I suppose?

1. site: This restricts the search results to sites within the specified domain;

Example: site:wikipedia.org vector will find all sites containing the word vector within the *.wikipedia.org domain.

2. intitle: This restricts results to only those which have the specified phrase or word in their title.

Example: intitle:Hilbert Space will find all sites containing the word Hilbert in the title and the word Space in the text.  Suppose you want to search for BOTH the words Hilbert and Space to be in the title then the search query would be intitle:Hilbert intitle:Space

3. allintitle: This is an equivalent of the above. A phrase following the operator “allintitle” would return results that would give all of them in the title.

4. inurl: This restricts the results to only those sites which contain this phrase in their URL.

Example: inurl:Hilbert Space will find all sites that have the phrase “Hilbert” in their URL and “Space” in the text. Again if we wish to have both the words “Hilbert” and “Space” in the URL then we can use the query inurl:Hilbert inurl:Space

5. allinurl: This is an equivalent of the above.

Example: allinurl:Hilbert Space will find out all the sites that have both the phrases “Hilbert” and “Space” in the URL.

6. filetype, ext: This operator returns results restricted to only documents of the specified type.

Example: filetype:pdf Voronoi will restrict the search results to only pdfs which have the phrase “Voronoi” in the text.

7. link: This operator returns all the sites that contain links to the specified site.

Example: link:www.mit.edu will return all sites in results that contain at least one link to http://www.mit.edu

8. numrange: This operator restricts the search results to documents containing numbers only within a specified range.

Example: numrange:1123-3452 Voronoi will restrict results to only those sites that contain a number in between 1123 and 3452 and ALSO contain the word “Voronoi” in the text.

9. inanchor: This operator restricts the results to websites that contain links with the specified phrase in their descriptions.

Example: inanchor:wildboar will return results with links whose descriptions contains the word wildboar.

10. allintext: This returns sites, documents with the specified phrase only in the document text and NOT in the URL, title or link description.

Example: allintext:”Weighted Regression” will return results that have the phrase “Weighted Regression” in their text.

11. safesearch: This returns sites containing the specified phrase without returning mature material.

12. define: This returns a list of definitions for the specified phrase.

Example: define: publish returns a list of definitions of the phrase “define”.

13. related: Returns results similar to the specified website.

Example: related:www.example.com returns results websites which are related to http://www.example.com

14. +: This returns results that will contain the phrase specified more frequently.

Example: +Onion will return results by the number of occurrences of the word “Onion”. 

15. – : This returns results that will NOT contain the specified phrase.

Example: -Onion will return results that will not contain the word “Onion”.

16. “” : The quotes serve as delimiters for the search phrase. This will return results only containing the specified phrase.

Example: “Voronoi Analysis” will only return results that contains the phrase “Voronoi Analysis”.

17. . : The dot operator serves as a wild card for a SINGLE CHARACTER.

Example: Angry.Fox will return results containing the phrases “Angry Fox”, “Angry7Fox”,”Angry-fox”, “AngryXFox” and so on.

18. * : This serves as a wildcard for a word.

Example: Angry*Fox will return results having phrases such as Angry the fox, Angry A Fox, Angry Why Fox and so on.

19. | : Logical OR. Returns results that contain either of the two specified phrases.

Example: “Paul Erdos” | “Carl Sagan” will return results that contain either the phrase “Paul Erdos” or “Carl Sagan” or both.

The above was a brief list of some of the most basic query operators that can optimize search results very significantly.

There are many more queries that are suited only for advanced users. I will not index them here as I don’t think there is the need. I might provide them on email but only at my own discretion.  Feel free to e-mail me.

These Queries fall under the following categories:

1. Queries for locating Web-Servers.

2. Queries for locating standard post installation web server pages.

3. Queries for application generated system reports.

4. Queries for Error messages.

5. Queries for locating network devices.

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