Scientists have drawn inspiration from the ocean by creating a flying “jellyfish” robot in order to rethink flying technology. Leif Ristroph and other colleagues at New York University have created a winged prototype that moves like the aquatic creature. This particular design is more stable in air than any other insect-modeled counterpart.
The frame is made of carbon-fiber and is surrounded by four plastic wings powered by a whirring motor. The motor spins and the frame is shaped to make the wings flap upward. This allows the robot to fly with little effort, and it doesn’t require sensors or programmed intelligence to adjust its wings. “Without circuits and sensors, it’s also lighter,” Ristroph said.
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At present, this prototype needs to be tethered to a power source. But, motor and wing improvements would allow it to travel freely while still being more stable than its predecessors. Because the model only weighs 2 grams, it’s easily carried by breezes and can bump into objects without harming itself.
Although there’s potential for military adoption, such as search-and-rescue assistance and recon, Ristroph stated that he’s far more interested in civilian appliance, particularly in environmental sectors. “We could use this type of robot to float around and take measurements, for example to monitor carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere,” Ristroph noted. Regardless of purpose, they are essentially, a much lighter, cheaper supply of drones to mass manufacture that have vast potential if used in sync within large clusters.
A network of these jellyfish robots would not only monitor carbon dioxide levels, but help actively reduce emissions in problematic areas around the world. Analyzing and reporting which sectors are becoming more polluted would ideally make implementing climate change solutions a faster process through instant analysis. Outside of environmental purposes, they could also be used commercially and provide roaming internet or cable services to areas without access. It could also provide power to areas affected by rolling blackouts and power failures in emergency situations. There is strength in numbers, and a mass floating, mobile network of these drifting bots offers a great template to expand upon.
Photo credit: news.discovery.com