Until now, typical micro flying robots have used motors, gears and other complex transmission systems to achieve the up-and-down motion of the wings. This has added complexity, weight and undesired dynamic effects.
The new advance, published in Science Robotics, could pave the way for smaller, lighter and more effective micro flying robots for environmental monitoring, search and rescue and deployment in hazardous environments.
Researchers from Bristol’s Faculty of Engineering, led by professor of robotics Jonathan Rossiter, took inspiration from bees and other flying insects to successfully demonstrate a direct-drive artificial muscle system called the Liquid-amplified Zipping Actuator (LAZA).
LAZA achieves wing motion using no rotating parts or gears. The system is said to greatly simplify the flapping mechanism, enabling future miniaturisation of flapping robots down to the size of insects.
In the paper, the team shows how a pair of LAZA-powered flapping wings can provide more power compared with insect muscle of the same weight, enough to fly a robot across a room at 18 body lengths per second.
They also demonstrated how the LAZA can deliver consistent flapping over more than one million cycles, important for making flapping robots that can undertake long-haul flights.
The team expects the LAZA to be adopted as a ‘fundamental building block’ for a range of autonomous insect-like flying robots.
“Making smaller and better performing flapping wing micro robots is a huge challenge,” said Professor Rossiter. “LAZA is an important step toward autonomous flying robots that could be as small as insects and perform environmentally critical tasks such as plant pollination and exciting emerging roles such as finding people in collapsed buildings.”