Scientists say the have developed a novel autonomous flying robot that mimics the rapid flight of insects. Experiments with the free-flying and agile flapping-wing robot improves the understanding of how fruit flies control aggressive escape manoeuvres, said researchers at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The robot, named DelFly Nimble, has exceptional flight qualities which open up new drone applications, they said.
Flying animals both power and control flight by flapping their wings, according to the research published in the journal Science.
This enables small natural flyers such as insects to hover close to a flower, but also to escape danger rapidly. As in flying insects, the robot’s flapping wings, beating 17 times per second, not only generate the lift force needed to stay airborne, but also control the flight via minor adjustments in the wing motion. Inspired by fruit flies, the robot’s control mechanisms have proven to be highly effective, allowing it to hover on the spot and fly in any direction with high agility.
“The robot has a top speed of 25 kilometers per hour (km/h) and can even perform aggressive manoeuvres, such as 360-degree flips, resembling loops and barrel rolls,” said Matej Karasek, the designer of the robot. “Moreover, the 33 centimetre wingspan and 29 gramme robot has excellent power efficiency for its size, allowing five minutes of hovering flight or more than a one km flight range on a fully charged battery,” Karasek said. The robot’s flight performances, combined with its programmability, also make it well suited for research into insect flight.
“When I first saw the robot flying, I was amazed at how closely its flight resembled that of insects, especially when manoeuvring. I immediately thought we could actually employ it to research insect flight control and dynamics,” said Professor Florian Muijres from the Wageningen University in the Netherlands. The team decided to programme the robot to mimic the hypothesised control actions of the insects during high-agility escape manoeuvres, such as those to avoid swatting, researchers said.
The robot in this study builds on established manufacturing methods, uses off-the-shelf components, and its flight endurance is long enough to be of interest for real-world applications, they said.