Robot fliers in commando competition
Robots inspired by moths, locusts, flies and swifts will take to the sky this week in an international competition for micro aerial vehicles in Agra, India. Teams will vie for the title -- as well as up to US$600,000 in funding -- for their tiny flying machines.
The mission calls for squads of aerial and ground robots to reconnoitre for human 'commandos' tasked with reaching 'hostages' in a building one kilometre from the launch point. The robots will need to detect and disarm simulated chemical mines in an urban environment, and guide the commandos past guard teams to the hostages -- all within 40 minutes.
The robots will use a mixture of wireless communication with a ground-control team, and autonomous navigation.
"It's a tough competition," says entrant Hemendra Arya, an engineer at the India Institute of Technology in Mumbai. "It really gives a challenge for the designer."
Micro aerial vehicles (MAVs) are hard to detect, maneuverable, portable, and more energy-efficient than larger aircraft. The United States is currently using first-generation MAVs the size of a rucksack to warn convoys about roadside bombs in Iraq.
Larger unmanned aerial vehicles such as the Predator have been used for years to spot and attack enemies, but they need an airfield. The effort to build smaller craft got a boost when the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) began sponsoring competitions in late 1996. The US Department of Defense is co-sponsoring the Indian competition.