Present day signs of the end

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects


While engineers have had success building tiny, insect-like robots, programming them to behave autonomously like real insects continues to present technical challenges. A group of Cornell engineers has been experimenting with a new type of programming that mimics the way an insect’s brain works, which could soon have people wondering if that fly on the wall is actually a fly.

The amount of computer processing power needed for a robot to sense a gust of wind, using tiny hair-like metal probes imbedded on its wings, adjust its flight accordingly, and plan its path as it attempts to land on a swaying flower would require it to carry a desktop-size computer on its back. Silvia Ferrari, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the Laboratory for Intelligent Systems and Controls, sees the emergence of neuromorphic computer chips as a way to shrink a robot’s payload.

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