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Insect-sized flying robots with flapping wings are being developed by scientists


A University of Bristol team has created a novel driving system for flapping wing autonomous robots, which uses an electromechanical zipping mechanism that eliminates the need for traditional motors and gears.

This breakthrough, which was reported in Science Robotics today, might open the way for smaller, lighter, and more effective micro flying robots for environmental monitoring, search and rescue, and deployment in hazardous situations.

Typical tiny flying robots have employed motors, gears, and other sophisticated transmission systems to move their wings up and down until now. This has resulted in increased complexity, weight, and unfavorable dynamic impacts.

Researchers from Bristol’s Faculty of Engineering, led by Professor of Robotics Jonathan Rossiter, have successfully demonstrated a direct-drive artificial muscle system called the Liquid-amplified Zipping Actuator (LAZA) that achieves wing motion with no rotating parts or gears, drawing inspiration from bees and other flying insects.

The LAZA technology dramatically simplifies the flapping mechanism, allowing flapping robots to be miniaturized to the size of insects in the future.

The researchers demonstrate how a pair of LAZA-powered flapping wings may deliver greater power than insect muscle of the same weight, allowing a robot to fly across a room at 18 body lengths per second.

They also showed how the LAZA can offer constant flapping over a million cycles, which is critical for flapping robots that can fly great distances.

The LAZA is expected to be used as a key building piece for a variety of autonomous insect-like flying robots, according to the researchers.

Dr. Tim Helps, the LAZA system’s principal author and creator, stated “Rather of using a complicated, inefficient transmission system, the LAZA applies electrostatic forces directly to the wing. This leads to improved performance and design simplicity, as well as the development of a new class of low-cost, lightweight flapping micro-air vehicles for future applications such as autonomous inspection of off-shore wind turbines.”

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Professor Rossiter went on to say: “Making flapping wing micro robots that are smaller and perform better is a tremendous task. LAZA is a significant step toward autonomous flying robots that might be as tiny as insects and perform crucial environmental chores like plant pollination as well as interesting new jobs like discovering individuals in collapsed buildings.”

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