How can a robot fly

Flies like flies

Insects and hummingbirds can perform daring flight maneuvers with abrupt course changes and even remain in one position in the air for a short time. So far, bionic flying robots have not been able to imitate these flying skills. Scientists have now succeeded in taking this step with a four-wing prototype. As they report in the journal “Science”, their flying robot could not only lead to more agile drones, but also to a better understanding of insect flight, for example from the fruit fly.

The innovative flying robot has a wingspan of 33 centimeters and weighs just under 30 grams. Matěj Karásek from the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands and his colleagues developed a sophisticated one in order to be able to hold their prototype in the air in one position and perform quick U-turns Control program. “The robot reached a top speed of 25 kilometers per hour and even mastered aggressive flight maneuvers,” reports Karásek. The constant feedback between a programmable autopilot on board and the data from several integrated sensors, such as an acceleration sensor and a gyroscope, was responsible for these flying skills.

As a drive for the flying robot, the researchers used two tiny electric motors that set the wings in motion via a wheel mechanism. As with insects, the movements of the four wings were sufficient to avoid instability and a fall. It is true that the robot tipped around its longitudinal and transverse axis during the flight maneuvers. But thanks to a rapid adjustment of the flapping frequency and alignment of the four wings, the flight always remained controllable and stable. One charge of the integrated battery was enough for a flight time of five minutes, during which the robot covered a distance of a maximum of around one kilometer.

“When I saw the robot fly for the first time, I was amazed how close its flight was to the flying skills of insects,” says Florian Muijres from the Dutch University of Wageningen. The zoologist involved in the study is convinced that the flying robot can lead to a better understanding of the aerodynamics of insect flight. But the flying robot that has now been presented should also give new impetus to the development of extremely agile drones.