Scientists flap to the future with 'insect' drone

As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, Dutch scientists have developed the world's smallest autonomous flapping drone, a dragonfly-like beast with 3D vision that could revolutionise our experience of everything from pop concerts to farming.

"This is the DelFly Explorer, the world's smallest drone with flapping wings that's able to fly around by itself and avoid obstacles," its proud developer Guido de Croon of the Delft Technical University said.

Weighing just 20 grams, around the same as four sheets of printer paper, the robot dragonfly could be used in situations where much heavier quadcopters with spinning blades would be hazardous, such as flying over the audience to film a concert or sport event.

The Explorer looks like a large dragonfly or grasshopper as it flitters about the room, using two tiny low-resolution video cameras — reproducing the 3D vision of human eyes — and an on-board computer to take in its surroundings and avoid crashing into things.

And like an insect, the drone which has a wingspan of 28 centimetres, would feel at home flying around plants.

"It can for instance also be used to fly around and detect ripe fruit in greenhouses," De Croon said, with an eye on the Netherlands' vast indoor fruit-growing business.

"Or imagine, for the first time there could be an autonomous flying fairy in a theme park," he said.

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