TOKYO Seiko Epson Corp. has developed a flying microrobot capable of autonomous flight. The prototype robot evolved from an initial version shown last November that was controlled from the ground.
Epson has been pursuing micromechtronics as one of its core technologies. The technology originated with wrist watches produced by its Seiko group. Seiko Epson has been developing miniature robots to demonstrate its technology and stimulate R&D.
Starting with 1 mm3 robot called Monsieur, which was listed in the 1993 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's smallest microrobot, Epson sold microrobots during the mid-1990s. The latest version, called the muFR-II, adds a flight capability.
The muFR-II uses a new gyrosensor, which the developer claims is the world smallest and lightest. The sensor will be soon be available commercially, and was tuned and used in the flying robot to control its posture in flight.
The flying robot measures 136 mm in diameter and is 85 mm high. Total weight is 12.3 grams, including a a 3.7-gram battery with 4.2-v power supply. Power consumption totals 3.5 W. The flying robot can also lift about 17 grams.
Its design consists of two rotor blades and a frame. It also uses four actuators and ultrasonic motors, a 100,000- pixel CMOS color image sensor, a polymer lithium ion battery and a circuit board with two microcontrollers including Epson's S1C33-family of 32-bit RISC processors and the onboard gyrosensor.
The new gyrosensor was the key to reducing weight. The sensor measures 5.0 by 3.2 by 1.3 mm, and has built-in drive circuitry. It measures roughly one-tenth the size and about one-fifth the weight of its predecessor, an Epson spokesman said.
Epson announced development of the gyrosensor earlier this month. It was jointly developed with with Nagoya-based NGK Insulators, Ltd. and targets demand for antivibration mechanisms in digital still cameras and camera phones. Dubbed the XV-3500CB, Epson plans to begin the volume production of the sensor in December.
High-density mounting technology was also used to package the microrobot's two microcontrollers. The technology is also used in mobile phones to help reduce weight.
The robot requires some human intervention. When taking off, an operator uses radio controls to position it over an image sensor on the ground. Once the sensor recognizes the robot's position and posture, control is handed off to an external computer and robot's microcontrollers, which communicate by the Bluetooth wireless protocol. The robot then follows a preprogrammed flight path.
"Though the range of Bluetooth communication is short, we expect that its two-way communication capability is advantageous when the robots fly in groups," a company spokesman added.
The prototype robot won't be sold. "We still have a lot of challenges to realize a completely autonomous flying robot," the spokesman acknowledged. Epson hopes its technology will evolve to the level that it can be used in entertainment applications and even disaster relief.
The robot will be demonstrated at a technology fair here later this month.