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November 2004

The World's Lightest Flying Robot

The µFR-II flying robot (SEIKO EPSON)

At the Emerging Technology Fair recently held in Tokyo as part of the Future Creation Fair, a small robot that flies like a helicopter was unveiled. Called µFR-II (pronounced "micro FR two"), the robot was developed by Seiko Epson Corp., a world leader in the production of microprecision instruments. According to Epson, the µFR-II is the world's lightest autonomous robot; an autonomous robot is a robot that decides its own movements without human commands. With a diameter of 136 millimeters, a height of 85 millimeters, and a weight of 12.3 grams, it's small enough to sit on the palm of your hand and weighs about the same as two pencils.

Epson has been working to develop the world's best robots for many years. In 1993 it completed Monsieur, which is listed in the Guinness World Records Book as the world's smallest micro-robot. Then in 2003 Epson introduced the µFR prototype robot, which was able to control its posture in the air. But the µFR was attached to a power cable that limited its flying range, so the developers decided to make a successor that was wireless and able to fly on its own.

The world's lightest robot weighs the same as two pencils. (SEIKO EPSON)

In order to fit the robot with a battery so that it could fly without a power cable, the developers had to give the new robot a lighter body and increase the lift force. The effort to make these improvements was led by members of Epson's planning and development group, resulting in the battery-loaded, free-flying µFR-II. The robot can fly continuously for three minutes, and it can be controlled from the ground to do things like hover in the same place or fly in circles. It can also capture aerial images and send them to a computer monitor on land using a wireless communication technology called Bluetooth, as well as communicate with people on land by flashing its two lights.

It's hoped that in the future the micro-flying robot will be used for things like patrolling the house while the owner is away or performing tasks in dangerous places that can't be reached by people when earthquakes, floods, or other disasters occur. Epson aims to have the robot ready for practical use in two more years.

Up to now robot development has mainly grabbed people's attention for creating robots that can move like humans. At RoboCupJunior, an international robot contest for elementary and middle school students, for example, the competition categories are soccer, dance, and rescue - all of which are activities that people actually do.

From now on, though, it will be more and more important to develop robots that can do things that people can't do, like performing tasks in mid-air or doing things that require superhuman strength. What kind of mission would you use the µFR-II for?

Click the adress below to see a video clip of the flying robot.
(This link will take you to an external site.)
>> http://www.epson.co.jp/e/newsroom/news_2004_08_18.htm

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