Researchers at Japan's Chiba University are developing a hummingbird-style flying robot that could be used to find people trapped in collapsed buildings, search for criminals, or even explore other planets.
Engineering professor Hiroshi Liu said the micro air vehicle, or MAV, is equipped with a mini motor that allows it to flap its wings up to 30 times per second--roughly in the same range as a hummingbird.
The remote-controlled ornithopter is nearly 4 inches long and weighs about 0.09 ounces. Its rechargeable battery allows for six minutes of flying time, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.
It has four polyethylene wings and apparently can be more stable in figure-eight flight than a helicopter, though Liu has yet to make it hover in mid-air.
In earthquake-prone Japan, finding victims in destroyed buildings could be one application of the ornithopter. Liu said it could also be used to track criminals or explore Mars from the air.
Other MAVs in development already have indoor navigation, outdoor navigation, and features that mimic nature. Liu's robot, though, is one of the smallest and most lightweight in its class. He plans to equip it with a tiny camera in the next few months.
It would then be in competition with the DelFly Micro, a similar-sized ornithopter from Delft University of Technology that already carries a camera. The Dutch machine is slightly heavier at 0.1 ounces and can only fly for three minutes. Check out a video of it here.
The Chiba University project cost has already topped $2 million. Liu has drawn inspiration from nature in the design and optimization of MAV wings, running biomechanical simulation models on a supercomputer to find the best wing shape.
(Via Physorg and Agence France-Presse)