Autonomous Flying Microrobots

Among the state of the art academic research on pico air vehicles, the majority has focused on biomimetic flight mechanisms (e.g. flapping wings). 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 the industry-standard quadcoptor. The proposed mechanism, electrohydrodynamic (EHD) force generated via sub-millimeter corona discharge, functions silently and with no moving parts, directly converting ion current to induced air flow. Microfabricated silicon electrodes are currently being used to create devices with thrust to weight ratios in excess of 15. Microrobots with four individually addressable thrusters have been assembled that mass about 15mg and measure less than 2cm on a side, with the capability of takeoff at about 2400V while carrying a 45mg additional payload of commercial 9- axis IMU, associated passives, and FlexPCB breakout board. A new emitter electrode design with an integrated sharp tip array pointed at the collector grid has yielded a corona onset voltage of 1450V and an unladen takeoff voltage below 2000V, decreases of 30% and 20% respectively from previous efforts on the quad-thruster. Current work is focused on demonstrating controlled hovering of the robot; the first step on this path is simulated control using experimentally measured aerodynamic drag, voltage to force response, and sensor noise values. Ultimately, integration with a low power control and communications platform will yield a truly autonomous flying microrobot powered by ion thrusters – the ionocraft.


  • Daniel S. Drew
  • Craig Schindler
  • Nathan Lambert


  • Kristofer S.J. Pister