ENGINEERS often look to the natural world for inspiration—and flight engineers, doubly so. Mankind’s desire to soar like the birds directly inspired the Wright brothers’ solution to the problem of controlling a heavier-than-air flying machine, by suggesting the way to do so was to warp the shape of the craft’s wings. More recently, designers of ornithopers (tiny, robot flying machines lifted by flapping wings) have looked to insects for inspiration, and built systems of sensory feedback that can keep aloft designs which are essentially unstable.
It would be better, though, if those designs were not unstable in the first place, so that any on-board electronics (all of which contribute to a craft’s weight) could concentrate on the more useful task of piloting the thing to its destination, rather than merely keeping it in the air. And that, by looking at a rather different natural model, is what Leif Ristroph and Stephen Childress of New York University think they have done.
Their ornithopter, described in this week’s Journal of the Royal Society Interface, resembles not an insect, but a jellyfish. As Dr Ristroph and Dr…Continue reading