Mihir Garimella loves robots. He’s been captivated by them ever since his parents bought him a robotic pet dog when he was two. His fascination eventually inspired him to start building his own robots when he was only 10 years old. Now, Mihir is pioneering a new type of robot inspired by fruit flies that he hopes will someday aid search and rescue teams in saving lives.
The dream was born one special summer when a simple housekeeping event set off a chain reaction of innovation in Mihir’s mind. Mihir and his family had gone on holiday to India that summer. When they returned to their home two weeks later, they walked into their kitchen to find a mess of fruit flies buzzing around some rotting bananas that had been left out on a counter.
As anyone who’s ever encountered them knows, fruit flies can be annoyingly hard to get rid of. The annoying creatures have an almost precognitive ability to dodge incoming attacks. Mihir, who just so happened to be studying flying robots at the time, wondered how such a small bug – a bug with a microscopic brain and a horrible field of vision – was able to sense and avoid incoming danger. He then took the question as step further and asked himself how a robot might be able to do the same thing.
And that’s how a 14-year-old Mihir began designing Flybot. Not only was he excited by the challenge of translating the fruit fly’s biological adaptations to robotic functions, but he was inspired by the possible applications of a drone that could autonomously avoid collisions. Applications such as search and rescue, where drones could search for survivors in a collapsing building without endangering the lives of first responders.
Mihir designed a tiny drone with four rotary propellers that would provide the necessary functions for collision avoidance. He also wrote all the code and algorithms that allow Flybot to identify incoming threats and dodge them. In 2015, Mihir and his Flybot won the illustrious Google Science Fair. Since then, he has continued developing the prototype, which he plans to commercialize in the near future.
As Mihir, now 17-years-old, heads off to his first year of college at Standford this Fall, he is doing so guided by a purpose and a passion that will no doubt impact countless lives and change the landscape of search and rescue in the years to come. Not bad for a 17-year-old high school graduate!