Robot Butterfly Means Breakthroughs for Biomimicry in Aviation (Video)


Image via YouTube video

While butterfly populations worldwide struggle to stay afloat as the global temperature rises and changes their migration patterns and food sources, scientists have been hard at work coming up with their replacement - the mechanical butterfly that can survive anything but perhaps an attack of rust. Researchers successfully built and flew a flapping-wing-powered swallowtail butterfly, which could have big implications for the field of aerodynamics - after all we saw those videos of early airplanes that attempted to fly by flapping wings and they sure didn't work. Though from the video, how we can tell this is flying and not falling-while-flapping is unclear. Click through to check it out.

It definitely looks cool, and you can see the mechanisms of this life-sized swallowtail butterfly working away.

Gizmag writes, "Swallowtails' wings are unusually large compared to their bodies, and their forewings overlap their rear wings. Because of these unique factors, their flapping frequency is considerably lower than that of other butterflies, and their range of wing motion is more restricted. This means that they have limited control of the aerodynamic force of their wings, and that their body motions are simply reactions to the flapping motion - in other types of butterflies, their body motions do exert control over their aerodynamics."

In otherwords, it makes for an ideal candidate to test out a robotic version. The researcher copied the size and shape of the wings, as well as the membranes and veins that run across them. Sill, the downward angle of this flight pattern seems less like flying. We'd have to see it moving upward to believe it.

Should the mechanical butterfly really be able to fly, it could mean that biomimicry in aviation has gone a big step forward, and mimicking the way other birds and insects fly holds potential for future tiny aircrafts.

We've seen researchers working to replicate hummingbirds as surveillance vehicles because of their extraordinary flying skills, including their ability to hover and fly backwards. Other species like bats, bees, dragonflies and now butterflies also hold potential.

Here's a video of AeroVironment testing out a hummingbird-like air vehicle:

Again, a little bit of falling while flapping, but quite a bit of flying going on too. Can you just imagine one day walking out into your garden and seeing one of these zooming around alongside their iridescent flesh-n-blood counterparts? Creepy.

The researchers behind this butterfly show their results in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics
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More on Biomimicry and Flying
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Flying By The Skin of Your Teeth Could Be Key To Greening Aviation Industry
Next Up for Aircraft Technology: Bird and Bat-Inspired Flapping-Wing Planes

Tags: Airplanes | Biomimicry | Insects

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