An insect-based flying robot

responsibility for wording of article: Akira Takashima (OIST)

Bees and wasps have excellent flying ability. By examining their high ability of flight control and the shape of the insect body and wings enabling the flight, we may be able to develop small-scale, lightweight, and stable flying machines. Small and lightweight aircrafts are demanded as information-acquiring tools.

Insects show extremely agile flight control performance. This surprising level of flight performance is attained by a wide range of factors such as strong sensory feedback, complex muscle systems for wing beats, a diversity of movements, and unsteady aerodynamic mechanisms. For example, insects have a surprisingly diverse sensory system. It includes simple eyes (ocelli), compound eyes, antennae, wind receptor sensillae, and distortion sensors buried in the wing surface. Flies have well-developed inertia-sensory organs derived from the hind wings. One wing is controlled by approximately 20 muscles; therefore, its control is incredibly complex. In flight, the wing not only beats upward and downward but also moves along a precise trajectory by bending, twisting, and turning. The wing beat motion inevitably changes the size, direction, and site of action of aerodynamic force, which  means that there is a fine interaction between supporting the body, propelling, and controlling the flight. Although this situation complicates flight control, it also enables the insect to enhance its flight control ability and momentum by changing the direction of lift and thrust. The hydrodynamic forces working on the wing are the inertial force and viscous force. For millimeter-sized insects, the viscous force is as large as the inertial force. This means that the aerodynamic force applied to the wing has strong unsteadiness. Insects can fly by flapping their wings because of this unsteady air flow.
The above descriptions indicate that flight control in insects is exceedingly complex; however, it has many possibilities. Insects produce force and momentum for flight control using their wings, and they use the same wings for lifting and thrusting. Compared with artificial flying machines, insects can thus generate a large amount of power. This means that small-scale models based on the insect wing beat pattern should generate the same level of controllability and mobility. In recent years, research has been actively conducted to develop small-scale flying machines, particularly Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) with a length of less than 15 cm and weight of less than 150 g and Nano Air Vehicles (NAVs) with a length of less than 7.5 cm and weight of 10 g, for information collection. It is highly expected that airfoil imitating insect wing flap could be applicable to small flying vehicles.

Further Reading:

昆虫ミメティクス Insect Mimetics(2008), 鉢山孝彦, 下澤楯夫 pp.724-729

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