New Bio-Mimicking Robot Sheds Light on the Way Insects Fly

When it comes to robot research, the animal kingdom often serves as inspiration. Now, a new bio-mimicking robot addresses one of nature’s most annoying pests to prevent the real-life equivalent from destroying plants.

In recent research published in Science, a new fruit fly-inspired bot, dubbed the DelFly Nimble, tested the abilities of robots flying without tails as rudders. During the tests, they found out how fruit flies and other similar insects can stay in the air without a rudder-like tail.

This development could prove useful to Asgardia as they could use these type of robots to help explore space.

Matěj Karásek of the Delft University of Technology and lead author on the paper explained that the robot is inspired by flying insects, like fruit flies, in the way it is controlled. Both a real fruit fly and this new robot have rotations around their three body axes that are controlled via adjustments to the wing motion of own wings.

To keep command of the robot in flight, researchers perfected the angle of its wings individually by rotating them forward or backward concerning its body or twisting them along the axis of its body. While doing so, they learned how fruit flies control their flight patterns and move away from danger.

Karásek stated that they saw a rotation around the third axis (yaw), which was not purposely being controlled by the robot but was instead due to a passive coupling effect. The researchers found that this effect took place when they adjusted the wing motion to pitch and/or to roll only while moving. This effect is not present when standing still or hovering. The researchers believe it is probable that this effect is present not only in real-life fruit flies but also in other flying animals with flapping wings.

Guido de Croon, a co-author on the paper also at Delft, stated that the robots could be used to observe actual fruit for ripeness— primarily serving as an artificial fruit fly intercepting real fruit flies before they harm a crop.

de Croon added that they could use onboard cameras to determine whether the fruit is already ripe, or to see whether plants require more water or nutrients. In the long-term, they may even pollinate flowers.

What’s more, the bots have a soft wing structure so that they are safe to fly around humans. However, for the robots to officially work in a greenhouse there are still a few more kinks to be worked out.

de Croon says they need to be scaled down in size, which could involve wholesale redesigns of individual parts that haven’t been miniaturized well before.

Additionally, the robots need to be smarter. Since the long-term plan is to have several of these bots monitoring a greenhouse at once, they’ll need to navigate around each other, and maybe sometimes work in conjunction with each other.

Thus, de Croon stated that the researchers want to work towards a full navigation solution, so that the robot can explore even unknown areas and then come back to its starting position or charging station, without any help from humans.

When preparing news, materials from the following publications were used: