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Morphing a drone into a hummingbird

A model of a hummingbird studied by researchers to train AI software to be used by drones, giving them the hovering capabilities shown by hummingbird. Image credit: Purdue University

The news is not a recent one, goes back to 2019 and in technology one year is quite a long time, but what it makes it relevant today is its application in real life.

Researchers at Purdue University, probably fascinated by the amazing capabilities of hummingbirds to hover with an extreme precision (essential to have them using their long -syringe like- beak to sip on flowers nectar), have used hummingbird flight model to train an artificial intelligence based software to endow that capability to drones.

Just last week I stumbled onto an amazing clip (watch it below) showing the use of  a hummingbird like drone to observe Monarch butterflies as they rest on trees in Mexico getting ready for swarming.

I was really captured by the beauty of the clip, and I bet you will too. As you will see, the hummingbird-drone was used by PBS in their Nature show “Spy in the wild“. Notice: access to this program is restricted to some geographical area so you might not be able to watch the full episode – it will go on line next week, May 6th.

The crew of the “Nature show ” dressed up a drone to mimic a hummingbird. This tiny bird is a familiar sight in Mexican wilderness and it does no harm to butterflies so they are not scared by its presence. That allowed the troupe to capture the amazing shot you see.

The artificial intelligence controlled drone was able to move/fly close to the butterflies with limited control from the operator (the finely tuned movements being managed by the onboard software).

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.