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Drones Inspired By Insects Could Keep Flying Even When Damaged


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A model for aerial drones.

Researchers are studying how insects fly when injured, in order to develop aerial drones that can continue flying even when damaged.

Credit: Stacey Combes

Researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands programmed a robotic fly to mimic insects with different levels of wing damage, enabling them to examine movements beyond the range of a real fly's behavior.

The goal is to develop an aerial robot that can continue flying even after being damaged mid-flight, mimicking the behavior of normal fruit flies.

The robot fly has a wingspan of 50 centimeters--larger than that of a fruit fly--so the researchers had to scale up its movements, as well as the "air" it moves in. To keep the same ratio between the size of the wing and the viscosity of the medium around it, the researchers replaced the air with mineral oil. Although this means the robot cannot actually fly, the information gathered from the experiments could help other robots with flapping wings overcome damage.

The researchers developed an algorithm to help drone developers maintain their robots flying even after an accident.

Separately, Harvard University researchers are studying how bumblebees fly through turbulent weather in order to improve drones' stability.

Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Southampton in the U.K. have examined how stick insects right themselves in the air after a fall, how owls fly silently, and how pigeons navigate turbulence in an effort to improve the aerodynamics of flying robots.

From New Scientist
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