Researchers Develop Flying Robot to Mimic Insect Flight

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Researchers from Delft University of Technology developed insect-inspired flying robot to understand aggressive escape maneuvers of fruit flies

DelFly Nimble- is an insect-inspired flying robot developed by Delft University of Technology at the Micro Air Vehicle Laboratory (MAVLab). The first autonomous, free-flying, and agile flapping-wing robot developed in collaboration with Wageningen University & Research was tested to improve understanding of fruit flies’ mechanism to control aggressive escape maneuvers. Moreover, the robot’s exceptional flight qualities open up new drone applications. The DelFly Nimble has a simple and easy-to-produce design. The robot’s flapping wings beat at a frequency of 17 times per second to generate the lift force needed to stay airborne and to control the flight via minor adjustments in the wing motion. In several experiments, control mechanism of the robot proved to be highly effective that allowed it to hover on the spot and fly in any direction with impressive agility.

The top speed of DelFly Nimble is 25 km/h and the robot can perform aggressive maneuvers including 360-degree flips. The robot has a wingspan of 33 cm and weighs 29 gram. With a fully charged battery, the robot can hover flight for 5 minutes or over 1 km flight range. Moreover, the robot’s programmability is well suited for research into insect flight. The robot performed maneuvers that were similar to a fruit fly. Moreover, the robot demonstrated the ability of fruit flies to control the turn angle to maximize their escape performance. The researchers with help of the robot can identify and describe a new passive aerodynamic mechanism that assists the flies and other flying animals.

The MAVLab has been developing insect-inspired flying robots for over 10 years within the DelFly project. Insect-inspired drones have potential application as these robots are light-weight, safe around humans, and are able to fly more efficiently compared to other conventional drone designs. The DelFly Nimble uses off-the-shelf components and has a flight endurance that is long enough to be of interest for real-world applications. The research was published in the journal Science on September 13, 2018.

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