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. Download Full Image

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">http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327185.700-robotic-insect-flight... insect 'flight' may be just good vibrations


Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Researcher wins top award for work on health insurance

July 30, 2009

Health insurance is now a major topic of discussion for both lawmakers and average Americans just trying to figure out what their future coverage will look like. A top researcher at Arizona State University recently received a major international award for his work on how insurance markets really work and whether existing insurance "risk pools" even make sense.

Michael Keane, distinguished research professor of economics at the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU, accepted the Ken Arrow Award, named for a Nobel Laureate, with two colleagues in Beijing this month. They were honored by the International Health Economics Association for writing the best health economics paper of 2008. Previous winners of this extremely prestigious award have also been recognized with the Nobel Prize, the John Bates Clark Medal and the MacArthur Fellowship, nicknamed "The Genius Award." Download Full Image

"I'm truly honored to be included in the company of such impressive past winners," says Keane. "I hope our work is recognized as having a real impact on society, especially in this climate where health care reform is being discussed."

Keane's research looks at the longstanding "adverse selection" theory in economics. As applied to health insurance, it predicts that people with worse health risks will buy the best health insurance, thus raising the overall risk (and cost) of insuring health on an individual basis. Belief in the theory is the reason "risk pools" exist whereby individuals of varying health risk are grouped together through an employer or even a country like England. All are required to participate in one negotiated contract to "average-out" adverse selection. This has the benefit of lowering the average price of insurance.

Recently, this long-held theory has been challenged when tested with data. Instead, recent research seemed to indicate that healthier people tend to buy more insurance, a direct challenge to the adverse selection principle. The new research from Keane and his colleagues found the common thread that smarter people tend to demand more insurance, and smarter people are also usually healthier. Utilizing this tendency, they then provided strong support for the adverse selection theory, finding that, among people of comparable intelligence levels, those who are less healthy do indeed buy more insurance.