A team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University is helping to develop a micro aerial vehicle (MAV for short) that will be no bigger than a bug.
By figuring out how butterflies flutter among flowers with amazing grace and agility, the researchers hope to help small airborne robots mimic these maneuvers. Johns Hopkins' engineers have been aiming high-speed video cameras at some of the prettiest bugs on the planet to study bugs' movements.
U.S. defense agencies like the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, which have funded this research, are supporting the development of bug-size flyers to carry out reconnaissance, search-and-rescue and environmental monitoring missions without risking human lives.
"For military missions in particular, these MAVs must be able to fly successfully through complex urban environments, where there can be tight spaces and turbulent gusts of wind," said Tiras Lin, a Whiting School of Engineering undergraduate who has been conducting the high-speed video research. "These flying robots will need to be able to turn quickly." Lin's research has been supervised by Rajat Mittal, a professor of mechanical engineering.
Pictured is an insect-inspired flapping-wing micro air vehicle under development at Harvard University.
Credit: Robert J. Wood, associate professor, and Pratheev Sreetharan, Microrobotics Lab, Harvard University
A MAV would be used for military reconnaissance operations in urban areas, where densely packed buildings and unpredictable winds create unique challenges for a small flying device. It can be remotely controlled and is equipped with a camera and a microphone. It can fly through an open window, or it can attach to your clothing until you take it in your home. It can land on you, and it may have the potential to take a DNA sample or leave RFID tracking nanotechnology on your skin.
Also DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, released photos of the Hummingbird, a tiny, ultra lightweight remote-controlled flying vehicle designed to resemble an actual hummingbird. The Hummingbird was designed specifically to let troops in urban combat to get a look around corners and inside buildings:
Research paper [pdf]: http://is.gd/1UcubI
Drones coming to skies near you [BBC News]