Autonomous Robotic Insects

This content requires cookies to view

Accept All Cookies

Open Cookie Preferences

Guido de Croon is an engineer and Professor of Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) at TU Delft who combines computer vision and robotics to create the world’s smallest flapping wing autonomous flying robots.

In this episode of Create the Future, we speak with Guido about the challenges of miniaturising insect-sized MAVs, and explore the role drones could play in the future of spaceflight, emergency rescue, and—considering the uncertain future of pollinators—precision horticulture. We delve into the world of vision based navigation and obstacle avoidance, discuss the challenges of swarm robotics, and contemplate what roboticists can learn from insect intelligence.

To hear more about bio-inspired engineering innovations, check out our recent episode with biomimicry expert, Janine Benyus.

About the guest

Guido de Croon is a Professor of Bio-inspired Micro Air Vehicles in the Department of Control & Operations at the Micro Air Vehicle Lab (MAVLab) at Delft University of Technology. His research interests include new, bio-inspired approaches to AI, efficient control techniques, improving the design of flapping wing drones, and a particular focus on computer vision and evolutionary robotics. De Croon earned his PhD in Artificial Intelligence from Maastricht University (the Netherlands).

Episode highlights

  • “Even if you don’t think yourself an engineer that doesn't mean that you can’t advance things in engineering by taking a different angle to solve problems.”
  • “The problems in space are a bit similar to the problems on drones because you want things to be lightweight. Future missions may use many tiny drones.”
  • “In the Netherlands, we have huge greenhouses in which we grow all kinds of crops. Drones could be used for the detection pests, diseases, and monitoring how well the plants are growing.”
  • “Human brains have around 68 billion neurones and a fruit fly has maybe 100,000, but it's still able to fly, avoid obstacles, find food, shelter, socially interact, and learn. That's much more than our drones can do now, so as robotics engineers our goal is to better understand this kind of intelligence, harness it, and perhaps go beyond it.”
  • “When I was younger we had a Commodore 64 and I started programming games, but opponents weren’t super smart, so that really triggered me to start thinking about artificial intelligence.”
  • “During my PhD I was fascinated by drones because they cannot carry a lot of sensors, so you really need it to have efficient AI and natural artificial intelligence.”
  • “I engineer and develop techniques that allow drones to fly completely autonomously.”
  • “These drones are very lightweight, so they're very safe and they're also beautiful. So this leads to a number of new applications like swarms of drones in light shows. We think for shows they will be very popular.”
  • “If you look at insects, they’re actually trying to solve tasks as simply as possible by following simple behaviours to solve complex tasks. That is what we try to do with our robots.”

Image from Micro Air Vehicles Laboratory Delft University of Technology (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Create the Future Podcast is available to listen on: