For the very first time in history, experts have been working on a swarm of tiny flying bots at the Micro Air Vehicle Lab. The study was conducted jointly by researchers from Harvard University and the University of Barcelona to come up with a safer alternative for detecting gas leaks. Experts have developed the Sniffy bug robot that can fly autonomously and explore new environments on its own.

They have curated an efficient navigation strategy to overcome the tiny drones’ limited weight and energy. Many researchers initially wondered about the new possibilities that would come forward if these tiny robots could explore autonomously and now that this is possible, complex tasks can be performed with ease.

Features of Sniffy Bug

As the name itself suggests, the Sniffy bug is quite tiny in size. Developers have created them in such a manner to ensure that these flying bots can swarm through narrow spaces with ease. By doing so, these tiny drones can reach spaces where humans can’t fit. They share the resemblance of a normal drone but are small in size, more like a swarm of mini-drones.

As mentioned earlier, the entire concept behind the development of these robots was ensuring that they could fly autonomously, without any map, memory, or GPS. Developers at the Micro Air Vehicle Lab successfully overcame this challenge by referring to a bio-inspired strategic approach. This approach requires the swarm of these tiny robots to follow a set of simple rules.

Since each of these drones is limited, they are supposed to work in a team and swarm unknown environments together to locate the source of an issue and tackle it instantly regardless of how large the place is. These automated drones can be used in industrial plants and residential neighborhoods as well. The bio-inspired artificial intelligence technology is an effective approach adopted to tackle real-life scenarios.

Sniffy bug integrated with AI and inspired by nature

Since the Sniffy bug is tiny, developers faced a major challenge when it came to integrating artificial intelligence in its compact computational and memory constraints. As a solution to this, they took inspiration from nature.

The sniffy bug isn’t one of the first robots that lured in inspiration from nature. Numerous robots incorporate animal-like features to operate seamlessly on unidentifiable terrains. Bat bot is one such robot that takes inspiration from a bat. It has flappy bat-like wings and is an aerial robot that flies like a bat. A game-changer in the automation industry, especially for robot developers is employing 4G. This will be an essential data link between the robot and the operator.

How Sniffy Bug can explore autonomously

As mentioned above, the tiny flying robots follow a bio-inspired strategy where they simply take flight in any random direction to begin their exploration. While they are in the air, they make sure to avoid every obstacle that lands in their way. The autonomous drones were developed initially to provide assistance in situations of gas leaks.

Since firefighters are unable to see the gas, they will generally take a lot of time to detect it. Gas leaks in industrial and residential areas are hazardous for humans. While the tiny robots are swarming the premises, if one of the robots smells the gas, it will instantly communicate this to the others. By doing so, they will be able to localize the source better.

How does the ‘Sniffy bug’ algorithm work

Experts at the Macro Air Vehicle lab have curated a small bug algorithm. Rather than mapping the entire premises, these tiny flying robots will fly and tackle obstacles. Moreover, once their battery is 60%, they will autonomously return to the radio beacon that is located at the ground station while making sure they don’t bump into each other.

The bug algorithm incorporates a multitude of elements. A primary element is that every individual robot should be able to navigate on its own robustly. Secondly, these swarms of flying robots are supposed to coordinate their exploration. This is a crucial element. Thirdly, they are supposed to sense one another’s presence and ensure that they don’t bump into each other.

Bottom Line

The Sniffy bug is a unique robot and unlike any other, swarms environments in teams of multiple tiny drones. They are primarily utilized for locating gas leaks, finding products, and keeping a check on greenhouse and industrial gases. These drones are equipped with an onboard camera to video and store images of the environment.