Jellyfish-Like Flying Machines

Jellyfish-;ike robot

Credit: Dr. Leif Ristroph / NYU

Researchers have built a small vehicle whose flying motion resembles the movements of a Jellyfish.

inventor Dr. Leif Ristroph, a postdoctoral researcher at New York University, wanted to determine if he could invent a winged flying machine that was inherently stable, with no sensors or artificial nervous system needed. After trying several designs, he ended up creating a cone-like machine made of four wings that are hinged at the top approximately 3 inches (8 centimeters) long, surrounding a small motor, a commercially available component about the size of the vibrator in a cell phone and which accounts for about half the mass of the device. The motor, located at the at the top, opens and closes the wings together not-quite-simultaneously at a rate of 20 times a second.

Other flying robots, like the tiny robotic bee built at Harvard’s Wyss Institute, or the H2bird flapping-wing drone built at a lab at Berkeley, sense the direction and location and adjust their movements to stay in the air. But the lightweight, electrically powered flyer keeps itself right side up without the benefit of sensors or any righting mechanism. Instead, the stability is a result of the shape and the movement of the wings.

Dr. Ristroph and his colleagues detailed their invention in the January 15th in the Journal of the Royal Society. They also presented the robot at the 66th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics last November. In addition to showing that the flying device is stable, Ristroph and Stephen Childress, also at NYU, found that the size of the machine mainly depends on the weight and power of the motor.

“What’s cool is you can actually build these flying things yourself,” Ristroph told LiveScience. “All the components I used to make this, they cost about $15 and they’re available on hobby airplane websites.”

The top figures illustrate the body and wing design; the bottom figures detail the motor assembly (left), and the wingspan assembly (right).

The top figures illustrate the body and wing design; the bottom figures detail the motor assembly (left), and the wingspan assembly (right). Images © Journal of The Royal Society

The prototype doesn’t include a battery, so the ornithopter, as they call it, requires a wire for power. More engineering work is necessary to get power and a radio receiver onboard so that an operator can control the ornithopter from a distance. It also can’t steer, either autonomously or via remote control.

You can view a YouTube video of the ornithopter in action here.

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