February: robots with flapping wings | News and features

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A new drive system for autonomous flapping-wing robots has been developed by a team at the University of Bristol, using a new electromechanical closure method that removes the need for conventional motors and gears.

This new breakthrough, published today in the journal Scientific roboticscould pave the way for smaller, lighter and more efficient flying micro-robots for environmental monitoring, search and rescue and deployment in hazardous environments.

Until now, typical flying micro-robots used motors, gears and other complex transmission systems to achieve the up and down movement of the wings. This added complexity, weight, and unwanted dynamic effects.

Taking inspiration from bees and other flying insects, researchers at Bristol’s Faculty of Engineering, led by robotics professor Jonathan Rossiter, have successfully demonstrated an artificial, direct-drive muscular system called the Closing Actuator. Liquid Amplified Lightning (LAZA), which achieves the movement of the wings without the use of rotating parts or gears.

The LAZA system greatly simplifies the flapping mechanism, allowing future miniaturization of flapping robots down to the size of insects.

In the paper, the team shows how a pair of LAZA-powered flapping wings can deliver more power compared to an insect muscle of the same weight, enough to fly a robot around a room at 18 body lengths. per second.

They also demonstrated how the LAZA can deliver consistent flapping over more than a million cycles, which is important for making flapping robots capable of undertaking long-haul flights.

The team expects the LAZA to be adopted as the building block for a range of insect-like autonomous flying robots.

Dr Tim Helps, lead author and developer of the LAZA system, said: “With the LAZA, we apply electrostatic forces directly to the wing, rather than through a complex and inefficient transmission system. This leads to better performance, simpler design, and will unlock a new class of lightweight, low-cost micro-aerial vehicles for future applications, such as autonomous inspection of offshore wind turbines.

Professor Rossiter added: “Making smaller, more capable flapping-wing micro-robots is a huge challenge. LAZA is an important step towards autonomous flying robots that could be as small as insects and perform ecologically critical tasks such as plant pollination and exciting emerging roles such as searching for people in collapsed buildings.

Paper:

“Liquid-Amplified Zipper Actuators for Micro-Aerial Vehicles with Non-Transmission Flapping” by T. Helps, C. Romero, M. Taghavi, A. Conn, and J. Rossiter in Scientific robotics


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