Nature has continued to inspire modern technological developments. Scientists have been developing drones that fly like a bird or an insect for search and rescue operations.
For example, mosquitos are known to move really well. Scientists are trying to create an insect-sized drone with this kind of agility that can be used in life-and-death situations, like finding a person trapped inside a collapsed building.
Kevin Chen, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and lead author of the study, said that he had spent a lot of time looking at the flapping-wing physics that could be applied to drones. That is how he and his team were able to invent a new insect-sized drone.
"The weight of this robot and the physical size looks pretty much like a dragonfly," he says.
MIT Scientists Invented Tiny Drone Inspired From Insects
According to NPR, the tiny drone invented by scientists from MIT weighs 0.6 grams (0.02 ounces), just about the same as a paper clip. However, it is as resilient as a dragonfly.
For the tiny drone to fly, the researchers have made a soft, muscular mechanism known as an actuator that powers its wings. The news outlet reported that the wing of the tiny drone could flap nearly 500 times per second.
Unlike the tiny robots built in the past, the design had rigid actuators made from ceramic materials. Chen pointed out that previous drones' wings would have a very hard time dealing with collisions when they would crash and land or bump into a ceiling or run into a wall.
However, the latest design of actuators made of thin rubber cylinders coated in carbon nanotubes produces an electrostatic force that squeezes and elongates the actuators that cause their wings to beat fast and withstand a collision.
Potential Applications For the Tiny Drone
MIT news release said that with the tiny drone's insect-like resilience, Chen said that it could be hit while flying and it can recover. Like dragonflies, the drone can also do somersaults in the air to correct itself. Chen is working with a new prototype that would make the drone look like a dragonfly.
Assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering Farrell Helbling from Cornell University, said that achieving flight with an insect-sized robot is always an impressive feat. This is especially because the soft actuators' inherent compliance makes it perfect to be used in any number of real-world applications, Tech Crunch reported.
The tiny drones could be used in industry and agriculture aside from search and rescue missions. It could navigate complex machinery to ensure its safety and functionality. It could also aid in the artificial pollination of crops.
Helbing added that making the tiny drone untethered from a wired power source is a crucial next step for its development. Currently, the actuators require a power source to power the robot.
According to the news release, building insect-like drones or robots can provide a window to how insects fly, which has been a field of interest for many scientists. The recent work of MIT researchers answers these questions through some reverse engineering.
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