You know you've found something good when you can take a headline straight out of a research paper and slap it right onto a blog article. Multi-stage micro rockets and flying robotic insects! Can it get any more awesome?
This research, from the Harvard Microrobotics Lab, doesn't actually seem to be directly related to this other research in robots powered by micro rockets (from the Army Research Laboratory and the University of Maryland Microrobotics Lab). The rockets that were presented at IROS last year were designed for jumping, whereas these robots are meant for flying. Whee!
BWAHAHAHA DID YOU SEE THOSE PUNY HUMANS FLEE IN TERROR?!
The reason to go with little tiny rockets for microrobots (as opposed to a more conventional propulsion system powered by batteries) is fairly straightforward: energy density: you can get a lot more energy per unit of mass from a rocket than you can from a battery. These particular rockets use APCP (Ammonium Perchlorate Composite Propellant), and each has multiple stages, with integrated "delay charges" that modulate the thrust from the rocket by significantly reducing its output for up to about five seconds. Here's what the design looks like:
You can see how well this works in the vid, but here's how the researchers describe it:
"The glider performs a successful and stable take-off from a starting ramp, although it is not yet fully balanced which leads to a pitch instability, after which further analysis of the high speed video reveals that it spontaneously develops a malicious machine consciousness and attempts to impale its creators and any other humans with range."
I may have embellished that last phrase just slightly. But seriously, the next step here is to make the gliders a little more, you know, controllable, using piezo or Shape Memory Alloy based steering actuators.