07 June 2006

Microcontrollers with wings, Healy/Hurly style

Imagine a microcontroller smaller than a piece of cereal, in which the full system flies (far better than most helicopters), navigates, recognises objects and fits easily into your hand.

How much would NASA charge you to develop one?

A couple of biological researchers have discovered all of these properties and more in a small, non-patented item which we call “a hummingbird”.

Susan Healy & Andrew Hurly (name-jokes must run amuck thereabouts) have been at this NASA-rivalling business for many years... I was impressed by a 3m-tall fossil of a Kiwi penguin which might have weighed up to a tonne apiece (“no steala da fish!”), but really this, um, featherweight contender is a serious winner in the feature-density race.

For example, they’re known to remind feeder-owners about where they hung said bird-feeder a year or so ago. All of this in a system totalling about three grammes, wings and all. There are days when I rue the inability of computers literally hundreds of times heavier (and which don’t fly without a substantial impulse from the disgruntled owner) to remind me of where I have — or should have — put various things.

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