Toyota is developing “insect drone” in laboratory

Researchers at Toyota’s Central Research and Development Laboratory recently created an insect-sized drone. The device is powered by wireless power transmission through radio frequency electromagnetic waves with a power density of 4900 W kg-1.

The scientists’ idea is that the novelty will allow them to design smaller devices and components with more power, while reducing costs and maintenance difficulties that arise when machines are subjected to extreme activity regimes.

According to Takashi Ozaki, one of the researchers involved in the project, the “insect drones” have a very limited operating time due to the energy source. The idea, however, is that the invention overcomes this limitation. Wireless power supply using electromagnetic waves has been tested in several products, but until now it was not known to what extent it could be applied to “minidrones”.

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“One of the main features of our robot is the highly efficient swing control, thanks to the use of a powerful monocrystalline piezoelectric actuator. This design offers a weight-to-power ratio comparable to the flight of live insects.” said Ozaki.

Piezoelectric materials are those that are capable of generating electrical charges when undergoing mechanical deformation, which is the change in the form of a material resulting from the application of force.

The main problem engineers face when trying to create miniature robots is thermal runaway, which causes energy losses. To overcome this problem, Ozaki and his colleagues improved the design of the “insect drone” so that the components that generate heat don’t get close to each other.

In addition, the researchers used a radio frequency power receiver with a power density by weight that was significantly higher than commercially available lithium polymer batteries of similar weight, which improved the robot’s efficiency and operating time.

To assess the project’s effectiveness, Toyota scientists performed a series of tests and managed to make the drone take off smoothly, without the need for batteries or special wires.

Weighing just 1.8 grams, the insect-sized flying robot is about 25 times lighter than other similar structures with the same RF power. According to the developers, it could be used to perform complex tasks that involve entering cracks, pipes, or other inaccessible places.

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