By Devin Coldewey
Big robots like Spot may be great for carrying things or trotting out onto stages, but just as much sophisticated engineering goes into creating tiny ones as well — and this little flyer from the University of Pennsylvania is one the tiniest yet.
It’s called Piccolissimo, both Italian for smallest and also a play on the creator’s name, Matt Piccoli — and while it isn’t actually the world’s smallest flying robot, Penn does get to claim it as the world’s smallest self-powered, controllable flying robot. Others are smaller, but either can’t be steered or (like the Robobee) are wired for power.
About the width of a quarter, Piccolissimo has just two moving parts, which is one more than the ballbot we saw earlier this month. One is the propeller, the other is the 3D printed body: both spin, but at different speeds. The propeller is slightly off-center, and the body turns 40 times per second, evening out the thrust to vertical — but tiny modifications to that spin speed can send it in one direction or another. It’s all controlled with a simple signal sent over an infrared beam.
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