Roboticists discover the secret of insect flight, and it's not wings

Studying how Hawkmoths use their abdomens to stabilize flight lead to improving aerial robot stability. The article has a video demonstrating this improved stability, near the bottom.

... the researchers determined that the moths use their abdomens for flight control via two mechanisms. First, the abdominal movements shift the moth's center of mass relative to the center of lift, counteracting the rotation, as previously theorized. Additionally, when the moth rotates its abdomen, its thorax rotates in the opposite direction to conserve angular momentum — this causes the aerodynamic forces produced by the wings, which are attached the thorax, to redirect, helping to correct the loss of stability.

Cowan says that their discovery could improve the stability of aerial robots — in fact, the team has already demonstrated its use in a robotic quadrotor. These flying drones have four propellers controlled by four independent motors, all of which are powered by an attached battery. The scientists unmounted the battery, hung it below the quadrotor and implemented a sensor and control system that automatically adjusted the position of the battery in response to the robot's pitch. Similar to the moth, when the robot moved its battery, the aerodynamic forces from the propellers redirected, resulting in increased stability (see the video below).

The researchers essentially gave the robot's battery a second function. "In engineering, people tend to focus on 'one part, one function,' but in biology you see these incredibly complex, integrated systems." Cowan says. "The lesson to learn here is the incredible success that nature has in adapting designs to take advantage of and exploit multifunctionality."


Tags: aerial robot flight stability, multifunctionality in engineering

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Replies to This Discussion

This fascinating article reveals adaptability and flexibility instantaneously in response to environmental conditions. What an important thing to learn just now. The moth films are well worth the time to watch, and then there are the lizard and the robots. Great article!

Enjoyed learning something - thanks.

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