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ScienceDaily (Aug. 6, 2009) — Engineers have long been stymied in their attempts to fabricate micro aerial robots that can match the amazing flight capabilities of nature’s most advanced flying insects ¾flies. Such robot flies -- if they could be made efficient enough for long missions -- could be used for a variety of tasks, from spying, to mine detection to search and rescue missions in collapsed buildings.
There is a long held belief among engineers and biologists that micro flying robots that fly like airplanes and helicopters consume much more energy than micro robots that fly like advanced insects such as flies. The previous thinking was that basic flapping wings at the small scale of insects waste less energy while generating lift. This idea, which has become integral to the development of fly-sized flying robots, now has been tested rigorously by a Dutch aerospace engineer, David Lentink at Wageningen University (Netherlands), who joined forces with a leading expert on insect flight, biologist Michael Dickinson at the California Institute of Caltech.
Together they used a giant robot fly submerged in a tank of oil to test whether flies consume less energy to hover than a micro helicopter outfitted with a fly wing. To their surprise, they found that a spinning fly wing generated the same amount of lift as a flapping fly wing while consuming only half the energy to keep the wing moving. The study shows that robots that hover like flies can save up to 50% energy if they swing an insect wing around like a helicopter blade. This finding can result in new, more energy efficient micro flying robot designs inspired by both the effective wing shape of insects and the energy efficient spinning motion of helicopter blades.
Such robot flies -- if they could be made efficient enough for long missions -- could be used for a variety of tasks, from spying, to mine detection to search and rescue missions in collapsed buildings.