Neither bio-mimicking robots nor insect-analog micro aerial vehicles (MAVs) are new concepts. But where super high-speed video capture,
competitive figure skating, and lepidopterology collide, there PopSci
shall be. Today, that means turning our attention to Johns Hopkins
University, where engineering undergrad Tiras Lin is potentially shaking
up insect-like aerial robot design.
For a proper visual explanation of what Lin and colleagues are up to,
the video below is thorough. But briefly: DARPA and other defense- and
public safety-related research entities in both the public and private
sectors have been exploring the idea of tiny, sensor-capable drones the
size of aircraft for years now (regular readers have read about many of
them on this site). But actually recreating mechanically the kind of
flight achieved by insects is notoriously difficult.
Users want MAVs they can pilot through complex urban environments, where
the variables--obstacles, tight spaces, variable air pressure and wind
speeds--make it difficult to fly. Wishing to tap real insects’ tricks,
mechanical engineering junior Lin crossed over into entomology, using a
high-speed camera array to capture butterfly flight--wing flapping, body
deformation, and anything else that contributes to mass distribution as
a butterfly moves through the air.