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article imageFirst autonomous, free-flying and agile flapping-wing robot

By Tim Sandle     Sep 14, 2018 in Science
A novel flying robot has been developed which can mimic rapid insect flight. The machine is presented as the world's first autonomous, free-flying and agile flapping-wing robot.
The new robot was developed for a specific science experiment; however, the construction will have wider uses in the field of aerial robotics. The device was constructed to improve scientific understanding of how fruit flies control aggressive escape maneuvers. Beyond a role in insect flight research, the robot's new flight abilities should open up new drone applications. The flying robot was devised by technologists from Delft University of Technology researchers from the Micro Air Vehicle Laboratory (MAVLab).
With the new robot, the machine's flapping wings beat at 17 times per second. This is sufficient to provide the necessary lift force for the robot to remain airborne. The number of beast also allows the controller to operate the robot through minor adjustments in the wing motion. The entire wing mechanism was drawn from a study of fruit flies, and this insight gives the robot great agility.
According to one of the scientists, Matěj Karásek: "The robot has a top speed of 25 km/h and can even perform aggressive manoeuvres, such as 360-degree flips, resembling loops and barrel rolls. Moreover, the 33 cm wingspan and 29 gram robot has, for its size, excellent power efficiency, allowing 5 minutes of hovering flight or more than a 1 km flight range on a fully charged battery."
The robot in flight is shown in the following video:
With the biological research, small flyers like insects are able to hover close to a flower and they can also use their wings to rapidly escape danger. These variations with inset flight have long intrigued researchers - how can a wing be used for such varied patterns of flight? The idea behind constructing the robot was to help to study complex wing motion patterns and aerodynamics. The scientists were also keen to understand more about the sensory and neuro-motor systems of insects when the engage in different forms of agile manoeuvre. For instance, studying the robot has demonstrated to the researchers precisely how fruit flies control the turn angle to maximize their escape performance.
The next area of research with the robot will be with developing insect-inspired drones. Such machines offer advantages over conventional drones in that thy would be light-weight, safe around humans and are able to fly more efficiently at smaller scale.
The construction of the robot is described in the journal Science, with the research paper titled "A tailless aerial robotic flapper reveals that flies use torque coupling in rapid banked turns."
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