While flying drones are common in military, consumer, and even commercial applications, there are a few intriguing, much smaller and less familiar flying drones in development. Called a micro air vehicle (MAV), or micro aerial vehicle, this class of very small flying drones have applications in agriculture, disaster relief, by both military and enterprise users, and more. With their flight based on bird or bug-sized designs, researchers have been actively working on these types of drones for well over a decade. In the United States, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been a driving forces for creating production capable MAVs. While in most cases, research is ongoing and production MAVs are not available yet, there are some indications of what we can expect to see in the future.
In agriculture applications, flying microbots equipped with smart sensors would create autonomous MAVs that could be used for crop pollination or to monitor agriculture for dryness or drought. When used in search and rescue missions, rescuers could cover larger areas faster and more cheaply. Rather than a single or few larger, more expensive drones, 100 or 1,000 small controllable MAVS could explore and search more of a disaster site. The progress in AgriFood Robotics presentation was made at this year’s IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have been working on MAVs for many years. They developed a MAV that weighs just 665 milligrams (0.00146607 lbs.). Measuring 6 x 2 x 1 cm (2.3622 in. x 0.787402 in. x 0.393701 in.), the MAV is about the width of a credit card. Currently, the MAV is tethered to a fixed location since it requires wires to get its power. In addition to the battery it will need to be autonomous, image and other sensors will have to be added as well for it to be useful.
Flying & Swimming
Similar to the recent video images of unknown vehicles caught flying at unearthly speeds, making unusual maneuvers, and then diving into the ocean, Chinese researchers have developed a flying fish type of MAV. Known as the TJ-FlyingFish, the MAV research team consisted of scientists from China’s Shanghai Research Institute for Intelligent Autonomous Systems, Tongji University, and the Unmanned Systems Research Group at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
With its ability to swim underwater and shoot into the sky and fly as a quadcopter, the aquatic flying drone stats include:
- 6 pounds weight
- 6 minutes hovering time
- 5 feet per second underwater swimming speed
The flying fish operates without human intervention on artificial intelligence only. With instructions from a human controller, the AI system can assign the drone a mission, and it will accomplish it autonomously without the need for human intervention.
Attendees to the 2023 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), held in London from May 2 to June 2, 2023 had the chance to tour the Aerial Robotics Lab (ARL) at Imperial College London. Researchers there are working on aerial aquatic locomotion in their AquaMAV Project. Unfortunately, the sensing aspects including stability, navigation and other sensing payloads are among the final research aspects.