Yufeng Chen, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), recently published a paper on an “insect” drone. The length and width of the drone are only a few centimeters, and the mass is less than 1 gram. Can quickly resume flight.
The paper, titled “CollisionResilientInsect-ScaleSoft-ActuatedAerialRobotsWithHighAgility”, was published in IEEE TransacTIonsonRobotics.
1. Imitate insects and do things that conventional drones cannot do
Insects such as flies and mosquitoes are probably the most annoying insects because of their agility and resilience. This feature allows them to fly quickly in complex situations such as strong winds and multiple obstacles, and they can recover quickly even if they encounter an impact.
Generally speaking, drones do not have such characteristics, and they need a wide space during flight and avoid collisions.
But the “insect” drone developed by Yufeng Chen and his team is not afraid of collisions and can move in complex, chaotic spaces. It is reported that the UAV has unprecedented dexterity and flexibility. Even if it is hit in flight, it can turn over and recover within 0.16 seconds, and difficult movements such as somersaults are not a problem.
This “insect” drone can be helpful in several fields such as industry, agriculture, search and rescue.
Tasks such as internal inspection of sealed engines, artificial pollination, and search and rescue into confined spaces can all be performed by such drones, tasks that are difficult to accomplish with existing conventional drones.
Yufeng Chen said that sometimes the size of the drone is not the bigger the better.
Farrell Helbling, an assistant professor at Cornell University, believes that the development of the “insect” drone is an impressive feat, and the fact that the drone is not afraid of collisions in flight greatly expands its practical use.
2. It weighs only 6 grams and looks like a small tape box
The new “insect” drone developed by Yufeng Chen and his team weighs only 0.6 grams, about the same weight as a bumblebee. Its shape looks a bit like a small tape case with wings.
While the “insect” drone looks like a bit of a misnomer, the drone offers a new avenue of research for biological and physical scientists studying insect flight.
Researchers who study insect flight can change some of the UAV’s dynamics and hydrodynamic parameters, and by observing how the motion state of the UAV changes, they can gain a deeper understanding of the principles of insect flight.
Because drones approaching the size of insects are constructed very differently from larger drones, Yufeng Chen and his team have been exploring for years how to address the challenges of developing micro-drones.
3. Using a new actuator, it can flap its wings nearly 500 times per second
As early as 2019, the research team’s paper on micro-drones has been published in the top academic journal “Nature”. In the past two years, the research team has designed a more optimized solution to make the drone more resistant to strikes, which has significantly improved the performance of the new generation of drones in terms of power density.
Larger drones are usually powered by electric motors, but for “insect” drones, it is difficult to provide enough power with the right size motor.
Previously, the first generation of micro drones used a rigid driver based on piezoelectric ceramic materials, but this rigid driver was very fragile and could not recover from a collision and continue flying like an insect, so YufengChen’s team had to give up this solution.
In order to solve the collision problem, Yufeng Chen designed a new type of dielectric elastomer actuator (DEA).
This elastomeric actuator is made of a thin rubber cylinder wrapped in a carbon nanocoating. If a voltage is applied to the carbon nanocoating, the coating will generate an electrostatic force that squeezes and stretches the rubber cylinder, and repeatedly stretches it. The length and contraction make the drone’s wings beat rapidly, and its wings can flap nearly 500 times per second to generate lift.
Farrell Helbling believes that the next step for the technology to be practical is to untether drones from power cords.
At present, due to the high operating voltage of the elastomer actuator, the voltage can only be provided by wiring. If Yufeng Chen’s team can reduce the operating voltage, the “insect” drone will be able to fly freely in the real environment without tethers.
In addition, in order to make the drone more insect-like, Yufeng Chen is developing a prototype in the shape of a dragonfly.
Conclusion: “Insect” inspiration is inspiring more drone innovations
Bionic drones have always been an important topic in the field of drones. The German Festo company has developed a “bionic butterfly” drone that can dance like a butterfly. my country’s Northwestern Polytechnical University has also developed a “carrier pigeon” drone. man-machine.
Yufeng Chen’s UAV has great potential in this field. With the improvement of new materials and power supply technology, there is still a lot of room for improvement in the performance of “insect” UAVs. UAV research provides new ideas.
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