Cameron Rose loves anything that flies. So much, in fact, that he has devoted his life to building robotic drones that fly like birds.

Cameron Rose stands with his robot the H2 Bird.
Cameron Rose with his robot the H2 Bird, which mimics the motion of birds to achieve flight. Photo by Sean Havey.

Now in his 4th year of doctoral studies in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, Rose works in Professor Ronald Fearing’s Biomimetic Millisystems Laboratory, where he’s helped design and build the mechanical bird called the H2 Bird. As engineers working in biomimetics, Rose and Fearing glean inspiration for their mechanical designs from biological forms.

Some of the biomimicry developed at Fearing’s Lab models the gait of a cockroach in a robot or the gripping power of a gecko’s feet in an adhesive. Most of their research focuses on making advances in terrestrial locomotion, but Rose’s research uniquely utilizes flight, as was recently reported in a National Geographic article.

The H2 Bird is made of thin clear plastic stretched over a carbon fiber skeleton and has a propeller in its tail to help with control. It weighs in at 13 grams and flies exactly like a bird — albeit a bird with four wings.

Because of the cross-disciplinary nature of his work, Rose takes classes in the Department of Integrative Biology to learn about the organisms on which he bases his research.

“I’m not trying to replicate the thought process of a bird but trying to replicate the behavior,” said Rose, adding that one of the goals of the drone is to be used in search and rescue operations.

During a recent test, the flyer performed a figure eight around the motion detection lab at Cory Hall where infrared cameras mounted to the wall record the flight pattern.

“The motion detection lab is the most important piece of equipment I have in developing the flyer,” said Rose. Later Rose will make adjustments based on the motion detection readings to improve the control code that interfaces with the machine from his desk, which is littered with old flyer carcasses.

Soon after Rose arrived at Berkeley, Professor Fearing reached out and offered him a position in his lab. The two had met months earlier at the EECS open house, where Rose told Fearing of his love of all things flying.

The first iteration of the flyer was designed by a former Berkeley Ph.D. student, Stanley Baek, and was demonstrated to fly towards a LED in a fixed position. Rose has built upon that research by developing models to better control the drone with code transmitted via radio signals from his computer.

Looking ahead, Rose, age 25, hopes to move into the private sector after finishing his Ph.D. “There are so many different things that you can do with robotics; I’ll never get bored,” he said.