robotic flying jellyfish
November 25, 2013

Miniature, Flying Robo-Jellyfish Created At NYU

[ Watch The Video: Flying Machine ]

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

In developing a 'flying jellyfish,' New York University (NYU) engineers say they have created a functional, novel means of robotic flight that could be applied to future machines for surveillance, search-and-rescue efforts or atmospheric monitoring.

The NYU robot flies by vertically flapping four wings that are arranged like petals on a downward-facing flower. The flapping motion of the wings somewhat resemble the swimming undulations of a jellyfish, but the aerodynamics of the NYU robot are probably more like a moth, the researchers said.

The NYU team presented their work on the new flying device on Sunday at the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting in Pittsburgh.

Previous efforts to make flying robots have looked at fruit flies as a model. However, a major problem with this mode of flight is stability. In addition to stability issues, a fly also has to continuously monitor its environment for every gust of wind or approaching threat and adjust its flying motion to compensate in fractions of a second. To recreate all these intricacies on such a small scale is extremely difficult, said Leif Ristroph, one of the flying jellyfish’s designers.

The NYU team devised the jellyfish model because it doesn’t need a control or feedback system to stay aloft. The final prototype weighs two grams and is 3.1 inches across. The NYU team said the size of their robot depends primarily on the weight and power of the flight motor.

The prototype model is somewhat limited by the fact it must be tethered to a power source and can’t be steered. Ristoph said they are still far away from building a practical robot, but the current results show a proof of principle, essentially a functional blueprint for designing more advanced and complex vehicles.

Ristoph noted the robot’s relatively simple design bodes well for making much smaller models. The team said their ultimate goal is to create a flying robot about a centimeter wide, which would allow it to maneuver in small spaces and fly around undetected. Ristoph said a simple design lends itself to meeting this goal.

"And ours is one of the simplest, in that it just uses flapping wings,” he said.

In March, Harvard engineers revealed an insect-inspired flying robot of their own. The result of more than a decade of work was a fly-like drone that is smaller than a quarter.

“This is the culmination of over a decade of work I’ve been trying to do to get this result,” Harvard engineer Robert Wood told Discovery News over the summer. “This is the first demonstration that you can make insect-like robots and control them in flight.”

The Harvard team said their prototype is part of a larger “robo-bee” project to construct swarms of tiny flying robots that can be used to pollinate crops, among other things.

“We’ve had robots in the past that have flown but they haven’t stabilized themselves in flight and couldn’t generate enough body torques,” said Harvard team member Kevin Ma. “The new design controls each wing separately. That was another huge innovation.”