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article imageJellyfish drones on track to make waves in the sky

By Craig Boehman     Dec 3, 2013 in Technology
Researchers at NYU have developed a jellyfish-like drone prototype based on a simple, four-winged design that can flap 20 times per second. Mimicking the swimming motion of jellyfish, the robot is capable of stable flight at a relatively small scale.
The proliferation of drones for a variety of commercial uses is a hot commodity for researchers. Prior to Amazon soaring into the headlines announcing its upcoming drone delivery service, Leif Ristroph and Stephen Childress of NYU and the Courant Institute presented their lofty work at the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics on November 24.
The machine is formally known as an ornithopter, or flapping wing aircraft. The prototype designed by Ristroph weighs in at just over two grams and has a wingspan of eight centimeters.
“Here, we present a hovering machine that achieves self-righting flight using flapping wings alone, without relying on additional aerodynamic surfaces and without feedback control,” wrote Ristroph and Childress in their APS abstract. “We design, construct, and test-fly a prototype that opens and closes four wings, resembling the motions of swimming jellyfish more so than any insect or bird.”
The prototype is very limited, however. It relies on an external power supply and cannot be steered by any means. It's also much larger than the one centimeter benchmark that many researchers consider optimal for maneuvering into small spaces and for tasks such as air quality monitoring, search-and-rescue missions, and surveillance.
But Ristroph is optimistic about future vehicles based a simple design. “And ours is one of the simplest, in that it just uses flapping wings.”
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