Biologically inspired robots are pretty common,
and engineers aren’t shy about drawing ideas from
things that are slimy, ugly, dangerous, or just plain
disgusting. A recent example of the latter is the
compressible robot with articulated mechanisms
(CRAM) from UC Berkeley ( www.berkeley.edu).
Berkeley scientists noticed that cockroaches can squish
themselves into crevices as thin a 0.1 inches and can
run very fast even when compressed to half their
normal height. They can even survive compression
forces equal to 900 times their own body weight. This
led them to think about how a cockroach-like bot
might be useful for search-and-rescue operations in
disaster areas (earthquakes, explosions, nasty weather,
and so on).
The result is a device that is manufactured using an
origami-like technique that can splay its legs outward when
squashed. The mechanism is protected with a plastic shield
that resembles a roach’s wings. According to Prof. Robert
Full, “This is only a prototype, but it shows the feasibility of
a new direction using what we think are the most effective
models for soft robots; that is, animals with exoskeletons.
Insects are the most successful animals on earth. Because
they intrude nearly everywhere, we should look to them for
inspiration as to how to make a robot that can do the
The research is supported by the Army Research Lab,
so we can presume that military applications are
Berkeley’s CRAM bot and its inspiration.
As you have probably noticed, drones are
becoming ever more popular and affordable,
and the Consumer Electronics Association has
predicted that hobbyists will buy something like
700,000 of them this year. This, naturally,
constitutes a growing nuisance for aviation
regulators, law enforcement officers, prison
guards, and pretty much everyone who values
privacy. However, there is now a prototype
demonstrated by Chinese drone maker, Ehang,
Inc. ( www.ehang.com), that promises to take
it to a whole new level.
The Ehang 184 (which was on display in
January at CES in Las Vegas, NV) looks pretty
much like any garden variety quadcopter, with four
double propellers whirling parallel to the ground.
The difference is that it is scaled up to carry a human being
weighing up to 220 lb.
The electric-powered machine can fly for about 23
minutes at ground level. In normal flight, it will clip along
at between 1,000 and 1,650 ft off the ground (maximum
altitude of 11,500 ft) at a top speed of 63 MPH. It even
comes with air conditioning and a reading light. What it
doesn’t come with is flight controls, which seems at least a
After entering a flight plan, the passenger’s only
command options are “take off” and “land,” entered into a
Microsoft Surface tablet. Emergencies would be handled
from a remote control center. Ehang CFO, Shang Hsiao
hopes to begin selling them sometime this year for
somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000, but the FAA
may have other ideas.
The Ehang 184 single-seater drone.
8 SERVO 05.2016