Sawyer Buckminster Fuller |
Feedback and motion control in robotics and the brain
Free-flight of an insect-scale robot |
Controlled hover and flight maneuvers by an insect-scale (80 mg) flapping-wing robot, with Kevin Ma and Pakpong Chirarattananon (U.S. quarter shown for scale) (2013 paper in Science)
Biomimetic wind sensing |
Flight-weight sensor measures flight velocity on insect-scale flapping-wing robot, with Andreas Haggerty (U.S. quarter shown for scale) (2013 paper in ICRA)
Insect-inspired visual motion control|
Controlling inertial, fly-like dynamics using fans and a small number of visual sensors (video, 2011 paper in ROBIO)
| *Flight control in free-flight flies |
Fly tracking with Andrew Straw and a free-flight video I took in this segment from Discovery News
| Ink-jet fabricated Micro-electromechanical systems|
Electrostatic motors, actuators, and an inductor fabricated using desktop printing technology (tip of a mechanical pencil shown for scale) (paper in JMEMS).
I am an engineer with a knack for design and humbly study biological systems. I think about how insects move, particularly flies, and apply the findings to robot motion control.
One project is to develop sensors and control systems targeted at small vehicles, such as the Harvard Robobee, an insect-sized vehicle that can flap its wings to take off and fly. This vehicle is so small that many conventional technologies, from electric motors to airfoils to GPS sensing, do not operate effectively because of physical scaling laws. This represents an opportunity to invent new technologies.
Another project is to study small animals for inspiration. One open question is how flies use feedback from their eyes and antennae to stay aloft in spite of wind disturbances and limited brain size. Using a free-flight fly tracker developed by Andrew Straw from open-source tools when he was in the Dickinson Lab at Caltech, I built an apparatus to apply wind and visual stimuli to Drosophila fruit flies while their position was recorded in realtime. Observing their responses, I found a model that explains how their dynamic behavior, from sensory input to changes in wing kinematics, leads to stable flight. The findings could lead to more robust and dynamic robots as well a better understanding of how the brain controls motion.
The biology/engineering cross-training has also lead to a frog-inspired hopping rover for interplanetary exploration for NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and an ink-jet printer that can make patterns of nerve cells to study the nature of neural computation. I also invented a printer for desktop fabrication of circuits and and 3-D microscopic machines in the lab that invented E-ink electronic paper. Please see my art, engineering, or photos pages for more.
* This picture is intended as a placeholder until findings are published.
I grew up mostly in Central California, graduating from Morro Bay High School. I have lived in Guatemala, Florida, Massachusetts, and Italy. My dad, boat builder Kirk Fuller, builds sailing catamarans and other vehicles that disdain conventional wisdom. My mom, Patrice Engle, was a professor of psychology and Senior Officer for Child Development at UNICEF where she worked on the science and policy of global child development before she passed away from non-smoking lung cancer. My hobbies include painting and charging deep (surfing).
Relation to R. Buckminster Fuller
He and I have no known relation, but I was named in honor of him. Richard Buckminster Fuller was an architect, mathematician, entrepreneur, and author (and Harvard dropout), and is the namesake of the Carbon-60 "Buckminsterfullerene" molecule that was discovered after his death. His approach to new problems was basically to think orthogonally to convention. He questioned why buildings had to be square, suggesting that instead they ought to rely in the intrinsic strength of triangles, though history has shown that this brings its own set of problems. But his main concern was poverty, believing that modern technology has given us sufficient wealth that a human standard of living should not be out of reach for anybody, and that we needed to think about environmental sustainability to achieve this. His book Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth spells out some of these ideas. In the sixties, this led people like my parents to say "never trust anyone over 30 -- except Bucky." I got to meet him when I was about four (here is a picture).
Sawyer Buckminster Fuller
60 Oxford St. Rm. 407
Cambridge, MA 02138
Email: my harvard username is minster. The email format is firstname.lastname@example.org