Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Miniature auto differential helps tiny aerial robots stay aloft

Date:
September 3, 2010
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
Engineers have created a millionth-scale automobile differential to govern the flight of minuscule aerial robots that could someday be used to probe environmental hazards, forest fires, and other places too perilous for people. Their new approach is the first to passively balance the aerodynamic forces encountered by these miniature flying devices, letting their wings flap asymmetrically in response to gusts of wind, wing damage, and other real-world impediments.

Engineers at Harvard University are developing minuscule aerial robots that could someday be used to probe environmental hazards, forest fires, and other places too perilous for people.
Credit: Pratheev S. Sreetharan/Harvard University

Microrobots could be used for search and rescue, agriculture, environmental monitoringEngineers at Harvard University have created a millionth-scale automobile differential to govern the flight of minuscule aerial robots that could someday be used to probe environmental hazards, forest fires, and other places too perilous for people.

Related Articles


Their new approach is the first to passively balance the aerodynamic forces encountered by these miniature flying devices, letting their wings flap asymmetrically in response to gusts of wind, wing damage, and other real-world impediments.

"The drivetrain for an aerial microrobot shares many characteristics with a two-wheel-drive automobile," says lead author Pratheev S. Sreetharan, a graduate student in Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "Both deliver power from a single source to a pair of wheels or wings. But our PARITy differential generates torques up to 10 million times smaller than in a car, is 5 millimeters long, and weighs about one-hundredth of a gram -- a millionth the mass of an automobile differential."

High-performance aerial microrobots, such as those the Harvard scientists describe in the Journal of Mechanical Design, could ultimately be used to investigate areas deemed too dangerous for people. Scientists at institutions including the University of California, Berkeley, University of Delaware, University of Tokyo, and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands are exploring aerial microrobots as cheap, disposable tools that might someday be deployed in search and rescue operations, agriculture, environmental monitoring, and exploration of hazardous environments.

To fly successfully through unpredictable environments, aerial microrobots -- like insects, nature's nimblest fliers -- have to negotiate conditions that change second-by-second. Insects usually accomplish this by flapping their wings in unison, a process whose kinematic and aerodynamic basis remains poorly understood.

Sreetharan and his co-author, Harvard engineering professor Robert J. Wood, recognized that an aerial microrobot based on an insect need not contain complex electronic feedback loops to precisely control wing position.

"We're not interested so much in the position of the wings as the torque they generate," says Wood, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Harvard. "Our design uses 'mechanical intelligence' to determine the correct wing speed and amplitude to balance the other forces affecting the robot. It can slow down or speed up automatically to correct imbalances."

Sreetharan and Wood found that even when a significant part of an aerial microrobot's wing was removed, the self-correction engendered by their PARITy (Passive Aeromechanical Regulation of Imbalanced Torques) drivetrain allowed the device to remain balanced in flight. Smaller wings simply flapped harder to keep up with the torque generated by an intact wing, reaching speeds of up to 6,600 beats per minute.

The Harvard engineers say their passive approach to regulating the forces generated in flight is preferable to a more active approach involving electronic sensors and computation, which would add weight and complexity to devices intended to remain as small as lightweight as possible. Current-generation aerial microrobots are about the size and weight of many insects, and even make a similar buzzing sound when flying.

"We suspect that similar passive mechanisms exist in nature, in actual insects," Sreetharan says. "We take our inspiration from biology, and from the elegant simplicity that has evolved in so many natural systems."

Sreetharan and Wood's work was funded by the National Science Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. P. S. Sreetharan, R. J. Wood. Passive Aerodynamic Drag Balancing in a Flapping-Wing Robotic Insect. Journal of Mechanical Design, 2010; 132 (5): 051006 DOI: 10.1115/1.4001379

Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Miniature auto differential helps tiny aerial robots stay aloft." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 September 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100902093456.htm>.
Harvard University. (2010, September 3). Miniature auto differential helps tiny aerial robots stay aloft. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100902093456.htm
Harvard University. "Miniature auto differential helps tiny aerial robots stay aloft." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100902093456.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Matter & Energy News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
3D Printed Cookies Just in Time for Christmas

3D Printed Cookies Just in Time for Christmas

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) A tech company in Spain have combined technology with cuisine to develop the 'Foodini', a 3D printer designed to print the perfect cookie for Santa. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Sony Hopes To Make Any Glasses 'Smart'

How Sony Hopes To Make Any Glasses 'Smart'

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Sony's glasses module attaches to the temples of various eye- and sunglasses to add a display and wireless connectivity. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Los Angeles Police To Receive 7,000 Body Cameras

Los Angeles Police To Receive 7,000 Body Cameras

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the cameras will be distributed starting Jan. 1. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins