Elizabeth Farrell Helbling, Harvard. “Design Tradeoffs in the Creation of Autonomous, Insect-Scale Flying Robots”

Position:  PhD Candidate

Current Institution:  Harvard University

Abstract:  Design Tradeoffs in the Creation of Autonomous, Insect-Scale Flying Robots

There is a need for small mobile autonomous robots that can move through highly dynamic and complex environments to expand capabilities in a broad range of applications. For example, search and rescue in confined hazardous or inaccessible places; distributed sensor networks with better temporal and spatial resolution; and minimally invasive medical applications. Advances in manufacturing and the proliferation of small electronic devices have paved the way to realizing this vision with centimeter-scale robots. However, there are still significant challenges in making these highly-articulated mechanical devices fully autonomous due to the severe mass and power constraints. I propose that by viewing the system holistically, we can navigate the inherent tradeoffs in each component in terms of size, mass power, and computation metrics and constraints. During my PhD, I developed strategies to create an autonomous insect-scale vehicle, the Harvard RoboBee, with unprecedented mass power and computation constraints. I will discuss my work on the analysis of control and power requirements for this vehicle as well as results on the integration of onboard sensors and power electronics.

Farrell Helbling is a PhD candidate at Harvard University where she focuses on the systems-level design of the Harvard RoboBee, an insect-scale flapping wing robot. Her research looks at the integration of the control system sensors and power electronics within the strict weight and power constraints of the vehicle. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Sciences from Smith College in 2012. She is the recipient of a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and co-author on the IROS 2015 Best Student Paper for an insect-scale hybrid aerial-aquatic vehicle. Her work on the RoboBee project is also featured at the Boston Museum of Science, London Science Museum, the Te Papa Museum of New Zealand as well as in the popular press (Science Friday BBC and Popular Science). She is interested in the codesign of mechanical and electrical systems for mass- power- and computation-constrained robots.