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Controlled Flight of a Biologically Inspired, Insect-Scale Robot

Science  03 May 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6132, pp. 603-607
DOI: 10.1126/science.1231806

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Lord of the Robotic Flies

While small-scale flying objects are ubiquitous in nature, they are quite hard to engineer. As sizes get smaller, fixed-winged flight becomes less efficient because of increased drag resistance. Ma et al. (p. 603) developed a tethered robotic fly with wings that flap through the use of piezo-electric materials. Control of the flight motion involved a feedback process, which allowed the tethered robotic fly to hover and make controlled flight maneuvers.

Abstract

Flies are among the most agile flying creatures on Earth. To mimic this aerial prowess in a similarly sized robot requires tiny, high-efficiency mechanical components that pose miniaturization challenges governed by force-scaling laws, suggesting unconventional solutions for propulsion, actuation, and manufacturing. To this end, we developed high-power-density piezoelectric flight muscles and a manufacturing methodology capable of rapidly prototyping articulated, flexure-based sub-millimeter mechanisms. We built an 80-milligram, insect-scale, flapping-wing robot modeled loosely on the morphology of flies. Using a modular approach to flight control that relies on limited information about the robot’s dynamics, we demonstrated tethered but unconstrained stable hovering and basic controlled flight maneuvers. The result validates a sufficient suite of innovations for achieving artificial, insect-like flight.

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