Learning From Birds And Bees: Engineers Study Insects For Ideas On Tiny "Micro Air Vehicles"

Imagine an aircraft small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, yet able to fly into damaged buildings to search for survivors or onto battlefields to detect toxic chemicals.

"Micro Air Vehicles" capable of these and other tasks are the goals for a new program proposed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The technical challenges of building such air vehicles will be the focus for a two-day conference at the Georgia Institute of Technology February 19-20.

The agenda for the "First International Conference on Emerging Technologies for Micro Air Vehicles" includes 17 technical presentations from more than a dozen organizations studying the rapidly-expanding area, as well as presentations from officials of DARPA and the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DARO).

"When you approach technical people with this idea, their first response is that you cannot build an aircraft this small and make it useful," said Dr. Sam Blankenship, conference co- chair and coordinator of the "MicroFlyer" program, the Georgia Institute of Technology's micro air vehicle effort. "But many people, including us, think you can do this."

Designers of micro air vehicles face formidable challenges and a host of unknowns.

No flying vehicles of this size currently exist, meaning designers must look to birds and insects for information about flight principles on a scale this small. Researchers believe aerodynamic principles governing aircraft with six-inch wings may be significantly different from those that have guided aircraft design since the Wright Brothers' 1903 airplane.

"There may be something about very small sizes that changes the aerodynamics," Blankenship explained. "The Wright Flyer made smaller and smaller and smaller ultimately won't work, a

Contact: John Toon
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News

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