Dragonflies May Be the Key to Next-Generation Drones

Nature is a consummate problem-solving. After all, it was for billions of years of evolutionary iteration to figure out (in a roundabout way) what works and what doesn’t. For this reason, researchers often look to the natural world for answers – even when they are solving a problem that, technically, can be very new.

This is why researchers at Imperial College London, UK, during a recent project expressed their intention to find new ways to manufacture small aerial vehicles such as drones. In particular, they wanted to know how they could better create flying robots that would be able to perform tasks such as correcting their flight when the course was closed. What better way than studying humble dragonflu?

“Dragonflies are part of a group called the Paleoperta, which first split during the pest flight several hundred million years ago,” Sam Fabian, a postdoctoral research associate at the college’s bioengineering department, told Digital Trends. “They were not completely unchanged at the time, but their four-winged, long-body plan is generally consistent and seems to have served them well. Dragonflies are relatively large pests, and all aerial predators are Are as adults, when they need to intervene to pursue and exit when necessary. The result of this evolutionary pressure is [that] We are looking at a fine-tuned flight machine that has a lot to teach us. “

Secret of dragonflies

Entomologists have been studying insects for many years. But doing so in 2021 gives investigators a distinct advantage that they are tools that are available to help them. In this study, Imperial researchers wanted to gather detailed information on how to “pitching” dragonflies, a type of upside-down backflip, to do themselves properly in the air.

To achieve this, he fitted 20 darter dragonflies with small magnets and motion-tracking dots to capture in 3D, detailing the way dragonflies demonstrated this agile performance of acrobatics. They also used extremely high-speed cameras to document the moves.

Dragonfly
Imperial College London

He found that the dragonflies figure is the key to his athleticism. In fact, their shape is such that the dragonflies will also flip themselves to the right in the middle when they are knocked down and then dropped. It would be like losing power to the drone and still finding a way to correct its course.

“We think of dragonflies and other insects, who constantly work to maintain balance while flying, processing all kinds of information [such as] Vision, ”said Fabian. “This is partly due to their small size, which means that the air makes them feel thicker, and makes mobility higher, but also makes it harder to do things like glide. Dragonflies seem to be at the limit of this effect Are, being relatively large insects, are able to use passive mechanisms to inactivate and heal themselves, but are still capable of performing and performing impressive maneuvers. This is the sort of thing Which we want to build in future robotic designs – such that they are able to use passive stability mechanisms more robust and use less sensory information, but are also capable of great feats if necessary. ”

Build better robots

Researchers have yet to step on the project’s truly building-a-robotic-dragonfly stage. But regardless of the kind of research on their road map – which would have been very difficult until a few years ago – could help inform the size of tomorrow’s flying robots.

Imperial College London

“The primary potential application of insights from our work will be in reducing the computational effort and energy that small flying vehicles will need to maintain stability,” Fabian said. “If we can build in passive mechanisms that allow for stability and for high mobility, then depending on the posture, we can increase their capabilities, and the range of behavior we expect from them.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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