Autonomous Flying Microrobots

Kristofer Pister, Daniel Drew and Craig Schindler

Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center

Even as autonomous flying drones enter the mainstream, there has been no strong push for miniaturization by industry. This project looks to develop a new microfabricated transduction mechanism for flying microrobots with the goal of opening up the application space beyond that allowed by standard quadcoptors. The proposed mechanism, atmospheric ion thrusters, offer some advantages over traditional drone flight (e.g. with rotors) and also the opportunity to bring together multiple MEMS technology areas into one integrated system. A unique high- density field emission tetrode device combined with high-voltage solar cell arrays will provide thrust. Ultimately, integration with a low power control and communications platform will yield a truly autonomous flying microrobot with ion thrusters – the ionocraft. High-density self- aligned gated silicon field emitter arrays are currently being fabricated and tested. Simultaneously, we are seeking to demonstrate feedback control of a meso-scale ion thruster as a feasibility study for autonomous operation.

More information: