Bio-inspired drones deliver sustainable societal good

Join Professor Mirko Kovac, online for his Imperial Inaugural.

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Imagine a future where an ecosystem of life-like flying robots operate in symbiosis with the environment and human society. Their duty would be to continually and autonomously performing tasks that would make our lives better and protect the natural environment.

From repairing cracks in building and bridges to sampling pollution level in rivers, biologically inspired aerial machines could soon become a reassuring and familiar background music of daily life. However, there is still much these flying robots need to learn from their natural cousins who after billions of years of evolution can effortlessly, autonomously and intelligently move through complex, ever-changing environments whilst carrying out a variety of tasks.

Mirko Kovac is a Professor in Aerial Robotics at Imperial College London whose lab has trialled flying robots designed to sample water, 3D print repairs, fly through forests and around wind turbine blades. In this lecture he will discuss their potential to do good as well as the challenges that remain in materials science, fluid dynamics, and in particular robotic autonomy – where efforts are focused on combining a digital “brain” with intelligent body parts.


Professor Mirko Kovac is Director of the Aerial Robotics Laboratory at Imperial College London and the Head of the Materials and Technology Centre of Robotics at the Empa Material Science Institute in Switzerland. His research focusses on the development of novel, biologically inspired flying robots for distributed sensing in air and water and on autonomous robotic construction for digital infrastructure systems. Professor Kovac’s particular specialisation is in robot design, fluid-structure interaction and multi-modal robot mobility.  He is internationally known as an emerging leader in bio-inspired aerial robotics. He is winner of several awards and the author of over 90 articles on mobile robotics that have been published in major journals, including Nature, Science, IEEE Transactions and Science Robotics. Professor Kovac regularly advises industry, investment funds and government on robotic research strategy is holder of the prestigious Royal Society Wolfson Fellowship and the ERC Consolidator award.

Before his appointment in London, he was post-doctoral researcher at the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory as part of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University in Cambridge, USA. He obtained his PhD with the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). He received his M.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ) in 2005. During his studies he was research associate with the University of California in Berkeley USA, RIETER Automotive Switzerland, the WARTSILA Diesel Technology Division in Switzerland, and CISERV in Singapore.