Bristol hive mind creates muscle system to propel bee-sized bots
Taking their inspiration from bees, a team at the university’s faculty of engineering has developed a direct-drive artificial muscle system needed to create insect-sized flying robots.
Flapping micro-air vehicles (MAVs) are currently used to access a wide range of locations, including confined spaces such as the inside of industrial plants and collapsed buildings.
However, current models are weighed down by the motors, gears and other complex transmission systems which are needed to achieve the up-and-down motion of the wings.
Through studying a range of insects, researchers led by Professor of Robotics Jonathan Rossiter claim to have successfully demonstrated a direct-drive artificial muscle system, called the Liquid-amplified Zipping Actuator (LAZA), that achieves wing motion using no rotating parts or gears, according to reports in Science Daily.
In its paper, the Bristol team show how a pair of LAZA-powered flapping wings can provide more power compared with insect muscle of the same weight, enough to fly a robot across a room at 18 body lengths per second.
The paper also demonstrates how the LAZA can deliver consistent flapping over more than one million cycles – important for making flapping robots that can undertake long-haul flights.
The team expect the LAZA to be adopted as a fundamental building block for a range of autonomous insect-like flying robots for use in environmental monitoring, search and rescue, and deployment in hazardous environments.
Dr Tim Helps, lead author and developer of the LAZA system said that the technology would lead to a better performance, simpler design, and would unlock “a new class of low-cost, lightweight flapping micro-air vehicles for future applications” – such as autonomous inspection of off-shore wind turbines.
Professor Rossiter added: “LAZA is an important step toward autonomous flying robots that could be as small as insects and perform environmentally critical tasks such as plant pollination and exciting emerging roles such as finding people in collapsed buildings.”
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