"What's really interesting here," says Ron Fearing, "is that we don't have things that fly really well, that fly like birds. And we don't have things that run really well, like a cockroach or a rat can. But combining the two, we can actually do more than with either of them by itself."
Fearing is UC Berkeley Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. A year earlier, his lab, with grad student Paul Birkmeyer, completed work on a 6-legged creature named DASH (Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod). It was designed to crawl around collapsed buildings in spaces too small for humans.
But some obstacles proved difficult to climb -- and DASH could be faster.
The new model is DASH+Wings. You can feel a lot of wind coming off of this thing, providing a lot of thrust. And the parts came from a toy, ordered online through Amazon.com.
The wings do not make it fly, but they reduce its weight, so that it can survive high falls, "We can kind of glide down instead of fall down, says Kevin Peterson, doctoral candidate and investigator on the project. "And we always land on our feet."
The wings provide thrust, so that the robot runs 90% faster.
The critter weighs less than a canary, yet it can carry a battery, wireless network and a camera.
"There are other people in the lab that are working on putting cameras on the robot," Peterson tells us. "Its circuit board actually has an interface for a small cellphone camera. We can take images and either send them back to our computer, or try to seek out a light in an emergency rescue situation."
Already, DASH+Wings has helped biologists bolster the theory that early winged creatures did not take off from the ground, but first learned to glide from trees.