Swarming: A Team Sport for UAVs

Futuristic UAV Swarm

One day, UAV swarms like this could be saving victims of a hurricane or an earthquake

UAVs have revolutionized the way countries and governments gather information and conduct reconnaissance, among many other things.  No longer are we required to put boots on the ground in dangerous countries or have the Coast Guard venture into dangerous disaster areas to enact rescue missions.  With the development of UAVs, controllable from vast distances, the need for human risk has diminished.  However many UAVs are large, rendering them unable to maneuver through complex terrain or making them easy targets for anti-aircraft rockets. Read More »

The Fly Flies

One of the basic concepts of flight is that lift must be generated to get into the air and maintain flight. Many animals and even flying vehicles have specific processes to generate their lift and take flight, processes that are very planned out and must be done properly. One such example being a hang glider taking off, where on the ground speed must be picked up to get a fast air speed over the wings to generate lift. Read More »

The Incredible Eye of the Fly

Undoubtedly you've had a fly buzzing around your room pestering you. At least once in your life you've picked up a newspaper or fly swatter and tried to get rid of it. But it seems like every time you swing the little fly avoids your attempts. Flies aren't as dumb as they seem. Evolution has taught their simple brains the maneuvers necessary to avoid harm and the patterns to follow to find refuge. The fly's sensory abilities, especially it's sight, are some of the most interesting in the animal kingdom. Read More »

Nano Hummingbird

A team of engineers led by Matt Keennon at California-based aerovironment developed the Nano hummingbird for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The Nano hummingbird is composed of four components; low-res camera, 6.5 inch wings, transmission and plastic shell. It is designed to mimic the flight of a hummingbird. It can fly up to 17.7 km/h in all direction. Read More »

Winged Robotic Cockroach Informs Debate on Evolution of Flight

Professor Ronald Fearing and his research team at the University of California, Berkeley, originally intended to create a robot that could navigate all types of terrain. When their first robot DASH, short for Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod, fell slightly short of their objective, they decided to attach wings to the robotic cockroach. Only later did they understand that their second version, called DASH+Wings, would further the debate regarding the two major theories on the evolution of flight.

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Indirect flight muscles in insects

Of all the things that fly, Insects are possibly the least understood. Their small size and quick movements have made them much more difficult to study, and much of the research about insects has not yet become widely known. One such piece of knowledge that has not yet become common knowledge is the phenomenon of indirect flight.

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The Next Generation of UAV

MIT's Flapping UAV, Pheonix

MIT's Flapping UAV, Pheonix: Photo by Jason Dorfman

A group of researchers from several American universities have begun a projet to develop a small unmanned aerial vehicle capable of flying like a bird. Lead by Professor Russ Tedrake of MIT they will attempt to build a UAV capable of navigating natural and urban environments at high speeds, much like small birds do. In their initial press release the team stated that they plan to develop a UAV with a wingspan of two feet and the capabilities to fly at speeds between five and fifteen meters per second. The device will also be able to navigate complex environments and will land by perching. While the project is not expected to be completed for at least another four years, Tedrake's group at MIT, the Robot Locomotion Group, has created several devices that achieve aspects of the overall design goals. Read More »

An Unconventional Lift-Enhancing Mechanism: Clap and Fling

A pigeon executing the "clapping" phase of the lift-enhancing mechanism--the "clap and fling."

Animal and insect wings are considerably different from those of an airplane. As a result, it isn't much of a surprise that they use different mechanisms to generate lift. One of these peculiar mechanisms is the "clap and fling." Torkel Weis-Fogh introduced this mechanism in order to explain the aerodynamic forces that some insects are able to produce.

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Kestrels and Windhovering

Hummingbirds are well known for their ability to hover, as are insects. However, hovering is a much more rare concept in larger animals, such as birds of prey. Birds of prey typically maintain their altitude while hunting by gliding around in circles, in order to generate lift. Kestrels, however, are the only bird of prey capable of hovering. Unlike smaller hummingbirds, kestrels are incapable of beating their wings fast enough to generate enough lift to keep them aloft, so they have to face into the wind and rely on it to provide lift for them. This “windhovering” technique is so precise that their heads stay completely still, a factor that is estimated to increase their hunting efficiency tenfold.  Read More »

Ducks: The Familiar Swimmer

Ducks diving in water.

Ducks are one of society's everyday creatures. They are in parks, on lakes, and even all over small, suburban towns waiting for passerby's to drop break crumbs for them to eat. Ducks, to us, are something simple with little interest revolving around them. But are they that simple? Read More »