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

nd we'll probably have to use some other method to get efficient motion in an aircraft this small. We may have to learn from insects and birds."

Beyond basic aerodynamic techniques, severe weight restrictions demand new types of flight controls, power sources, propulsion systems and avionics to fit within the 50 grams (two ounces) allowed for the vehicle and its payload.

Full-sized aircraft use motors and hydraulic actuators to move wing and tail structures that provide directional control, for instance. Because of the weight associated with those devices, however, MicroFlyers must use radically different control techniques.

Georgia Tech engineers are developing innovative control concepts. Research Engineer Robert Roglin in the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) is investigating electrically-actuated piezoelectric structures that differentially alter lift. Robert J. Englar, a principal research engineer in GTRI, is applying techniques for directing engine thrust across the wings.

Researchers at several institutions are studying tiny jet turbine engines, pulsejets, ducted fans and other concepts for propulsion. But since the MicroFlyers could contact humans during their search missions, whirring rotor blades or exposed propellers may be too dangerous to use.

Batteries or other electrical sources offer another challenge, as do guidance and navigation systems -- and the tiny payloads that will transmit television images or sniff the air for contaminants. Recent advances in micro electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) and microelectronics technology give engineers confidence that systems that tiny could one day be practical.

At Georgia Tech, for instance, researchers have been working to integrate multiple functions into single chips. Progress to date has demonstrated integrated image acquisition, processing and data compression, inclu

Contact: John Toon
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News

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