To improve the next generation of insect-size flying machines, Johns Hopkins engineers have been aiming high-speed video cameras at some of the prettiest bugs on the planet. By figuring out how butterflies flutter among flowers with amazing grace and agility, the researchers hope to help small airborne robots mimic these maneuvers.
U.S. defense agencies, which have funded this research, are supporting the development of bug-size flyers to carry out reconnaissance, search-and-rescue and environmental monitoring missions without risking human lives. These devices are commonly called micro aerial vehicles or MAVs.
“For military missions in particular, these MAVs must be able to fly successfully through complex urban environments, where there can be tight spaces and turbulent gusts of wind,” said Tiras Lin, a Whiting School of Engineering undergraduate who has been conducting the high-speed video research. “These flying robots will need to be able to turn quickly. But one area in which MAVs are lacking is maneuverability.”
To address that shortcoming, Lin has been studying butterflies. “Flying insects are capable of performing a dazzling variety of flight maneuvers,” he said. “In designing MAVs, we can learn a lot from flying insects.”