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Flight mechanics: Does robofly live up to its name?

July 30, 2009

More than a century after the Wright brothers managed to get a rudimentary craft airborne for a short distance, the mechanics of flight still hold mysteries.

One of them is demonstrated in research involving a “robofly,” a free-flying robotic insect, by Michele Milano, an assistant professor in the School of Mechanical, Aerospace, Chemical and Materials Engineering.

Last year a Harvard University team demonstrated the first take-off of a robofly by using a model mounted on guide wires.  A recent article in New Scientist magazine describes Milano's testing to explore what forces actually enable a robofly to take flight.

Is it simply the mechanical wings? Is it the vibration of guide wires? Or a combination of both?

Milano and his team fashioned a testing device made of a motor, metal tubes and wires that got a version of a robofly without wings to elevate.

The experiment suggests a robofly’s power of flight owes more to factors such as the vibration frequency and resonant frequency of the wires.

It’s an intriguing result of particular interest to engineers who see the potential for tiny free-flying robots in developing new technologies for things such as security surveillance or search-and-rescue operations.

Read details in the New Scientist article Robotic insect 'flight' may be just good vibrations