By Penn Engineering
Guinness World Records has officially recognized Piccolissimo as the World’s Smallest Self-Powered Flying Robot.
Italian for “tiniest,” Piccolissimo is the brain child of Matt Piccoli, a graduate student in professor Mark Yim’s ModLab. The robot comes in two sizes; the smaller weighs less than 2.5 grams and is about the width of a quarter, while the larger, steerable version is about 2 grams heavier and a centimeter wider.
The string of adjectives qualifying Piccolissimo as the “smallest” is necessary due to the concerted effort in miniaturizing flying robots. Harvard’s RoboBee, for example, is a few millimeters smaller than the steerable Piccolissimo, but is tethered to a terrestrial power source, limiting its range of motion.
Enabling directional control on such a tiny frame is an equally big challenge, but one that the ModLab is particularly equipped to address. One of the lab’s specialties is “underactuated” robots, ones that achieve the greatest range of motion with the fewest motors possible.
To that end, Piccolissimo has only two moving parts: a propeller and the body of the robot itself. Made out of light, 3D-printed plastic, Piccolissimo’s body spins in the opposite direction as the propeller. Precisely timed speed changes, controlled by an infrared signal, can therefore turn the robot one way or another.